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Letter: Mixed-Use Zoning, RFMBPW, and Main Street

Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington, with the Business Improvement District are presuming to save the empty storefronts on Main Street by creating there mixed commercial-residential use zoning. What might this result in?

It is a given that Main Street can only support a certain number of enterprises. This is due to a dense yet finite local population, walking distances, and local income diversity. Main Street cannot be another “Miracle Mile.” Neither can it, nor should it have to compete with major shopping malls and unwanted big box stores. The marketable commodity here is convenience. Viable businesses, for these reasons, are limited to restaurants, specialty goods, beauty salons, service stores, banks, convenience stores, and real estates. The total number that can be supported is determined by the general economy, the local incomes, the available population, and competition from near and elsewhere.

RFMBPW proposes to save storefronts by boosting business through increasing the number of customers. Mixed-use zoning would legalize two to three stories of residential housing over storefronts thereby adding customers. The economics of construction, for old buildings, to meet present day building codes, will dictate consolidation, razing, and rebuilding. The new buildings and population would necessitate increased tax revenues for the infrastructure and services to support development. If mixed-use zoning changes are generally made, sewers, water main, electric, street, sanitation, policing, fire, and school expenditure will be required.

The proposed cure, unfortunately, would still leave us at square one! Presentations of new facades, awnings, and plants will not remove the crushing tax burden on commercial property owners causing empty storefronts! Tragically, we would have solved nothing. Disastrously we might be left with empty buildings, pollution, dirt, additional policing, parking garages, population, and congestion. The character we had could become a past memory. A principal reason for having moved here could well be lost. No longer upon arriving and exiting at the last railroad stop would we, upon hearing Port Washington, feel the relief of having escaped an urban environment.

Can a collapse occur? Presently, we are tracking sideways along the bottom of a recession. There is a lack of work, business is slow, tax revenue is lacking, and we are facing stagflation or price increases without recovery. We are in the bottom of a burst housing bubble. We are lacking tax revenue. Without income who is going to rent more apartments? Who is going to provide financing? A collapse would leave empty apartments, questionable tenants, and more empty storefronts. We would have risked much to profit few. For these reasons the creation of general mixed zoning need not be risked. Specific limited application, however, may be considered for some pre-existing mixed-use building presently in limbo.

Port Washington has character, is viable, and in sound financial condition. We have great schools, and a direct rail line to New York City. Relative to other communities we are near the top. Some empty storefronts, far less than elsewhere, pose no danger. Homebuilders are active. The block-long commercial mall on Port Washington Blvd facing the school campus was just renovated without mixed-use. We do not need mixed-use zoning.

James Ansel