A plan is in the works to right-size Ambridge’s central business district and adjust some of the borough’s current zoning designations.
As the situation now stands, zoning in Ambridge applies the same rules across the board to the entire commercial district with no differentiation on restrictions except in the historic district.
“I think it undermines the positive vision of a vibrant downtown business district,” said Manning, whose consulting firm handles downtown redevelopment in business districts and rivertowns
Manning said the idea is to compact the central business district and offer several different sub-districts, such as the already-designated historic district. He said it’s important that certain businesses don’t creep into the central business district and break up the integrity of the block.
“Right-sizing is finding the right quantity of businesses, in the right locations, with the right goods and services, and the right character,” Manning said.
In his experience, Manning said determining the right size for a central business district involves being able to park your car and walk the distance of a quarter of a mile. A two- and five-minute drive time can also determine the core population to appeal to in order to determine how many businesses can be supported, among other things.
Beaver, for instance, has a core central business district of three blocks long and a population of about 4,500. Mt. Lebanon in Allegheny County has a population of 33,000 business district with a central business district of five blocks long.
Ambridge, by comparison, has a population of about 7,050 and a current 12-block commercially zoned business district from Fourth Street to 16th Street. Manning said it was built in a different time and era, which is why it is so spread out.
“We just don’t think in its current format and current zoning that that’s going to be a realistic thing, that we can continue to populate that whole thing the way it was. But we can fill those vacancies if we do smart zoning.”
Manning asked that council allow the borough manager, Ambridge Downtown Development Committee and the planning commission to work closely with the zoning and planning commission over the next 90 to 120 days to develop a draft of an adjusted zoning map that features new sub-districts.
A schedule of permitted uses will be prepared for each district and adjustments made to conditional uses and special exceptions as well as appropriate dimensional requirements and signs.
Bob Nelson, chairman of the downtown development committee, said they are in the process of applying for a large streetscape block grant project, but a few initial steps have to be taken before the borough can be next in line.
“We are fighting for block grant money with other communities,” Nelson said.
There is also a fight to offer more options to entrepreneurs and potential business seekers. Of the 55 acres of the downtown commercial area, only eight businesses are currently being marketed, which Manning said is a problem. Code enforcement work that the borough is doing is important to get more businesses in shape and on the market, he said.
“Tomorrow, if we could attract six businesses, those six businesses have eight options that may or may not fit their business model.”
Still, Nelson said there is plenty of progress that can be made in town within the next 24 to 48 months.
Carnegie Mellon University has again selected Ambridge for a project that will provide more insight, looking specifically at the Fourth Street corridor and the 8th Street area, and what they envision as a way to dress up that section of town.
ADDC has come up with a targeted wish list of businesses it would like to see in town, including specialty gift shops, an internet café, clothing boutiques, an incubator for start-ups and ethnic restaurants.
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