At a community meeting last week, two businesses made their case for a zoning variance. The first one was a long time physical therapist outfit that was losing their space near St Elizabeth's hospital and needed to move into a new office about a mile away. The other was a massage therapist that wished to setup shop in a storefront in Brighton Center.
The physical therapist needed a variance because the space in question was zoned for "office" uses which did not the include his business which fell under the "clinic" category instead. The masseuse wanted to reuse a vacant storefront that was zoned for "retail" which also did not include his category.
Does anyone think that these zoning rules are actually useful? What's the point of trying to keep out a "clinic" or a "massage therapist" who is willing to pay rent and run a business?
The probable answer is that the zoning rules are purposefully restrictive in order to force business owners to come beg the community for an exception. This strikes me as being unnecessarily hostile to business and morally suspect. Of course, in this case, there was no issue -- the physical therapist is popular in the community, and the masseuse was invited in particular by the long-time landlord of that building because he felt it would be a good addition to the neighborhood.
But there are other cases I've sat for where people whisper negative words like "unfortunately, he can build it as-of-right" as if they would want to stop the property owner out of spite. And they do sometimes attempt to do this. It's despicable to watch when it happens. More often, these overly restrictive and intrusive zoning rules are used to block growth in the neighborhood. As a result, vacancy rates are negligible and rents are starting to soar again.