Planning Ahead

The city needs to evaluate its procedure for amending the zoning ordinances to minimize their costs to the economy.

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Small business owners like Robin Dalrymple know all too well some of the problems with Berkeley's zoning ordinance - she spent eight months obtaining permits before finally being allowed to open her ice cream store on Solano Avenue, resulting in her paying the rent on an empty storefront for four months.

If this situation is allowed to continue, Berkeley will be hard-pressed to find enough small business owners patient enough to wait out the process and will likely find itself with more and more empty storefronts.

Given the slow progress of the economy, it's refreshing to hear the Berkeley City Council is considering changes to the zoning ordinance that would streamline the current permit approval process for some city businesses.

It's troublesome, however to hear how long this process will take. Last week, city council members considered five amendments that would consolidate permit processes for pedestrian-oriented businesses. The changes are not scheduled to be brought to the council for approval until June.

We understand that zoning is a difficult issue, and that the Planning and Development Department has a substantial agenda. But it's clear change is needed as soon as possible, and the longer the delay in approving the amendments, the higher the cost to Berkeley's economy.

Most concerning is what this delay means for other, more controversial zoning amendments. If the process takes this long for proposals that are widely agreed upon, how could any controversial amendments get done in a timely manner? Currently, there are 11 additional proposals that may be considered in the fall, but they do not yet have a definite time frame.

Small business owners need to know and be able to expect when important policy changes will be implemented. Suggesting that the city may adopt what many consider to be improvements, and then delaying them and keeping them tantalizingly out of reach, is not fair for future business owners and simply isn't good policy.

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