Neighborhood Business Districts

PAS Report 77

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Information Report No. 77 August 1955

Neighborhood Business Districts

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Consumer retail goods may be broken down into two types — shopping and convenience goods.

Shopping goods are those items which are bought infrequently and are often high-priced. The term "shopping goods" implies that a potential purchaser may be expected to compare the prices and quality of a number of items prior to his final selection. Expensive watches and jewelry, television sets, large and expensive pieces of furniture and the like are examples of shopping goods.

Convenience goods are goods purchased frequently and at more or less regular intervals. Food, drugs, hardware, and many items of clothing and accessories are classified as convenience goods.

Urban retail structure

Stores in cities which are large enough to support a large variety of retail sales and service establishments are generally found grouped in different areas throughout the city. Usually they will follow a certain pattern:

A central business district – in which the largest stores — as well as banks, offices, and commercial services — are concentrated. This district draws customers from all parts of the city and from a suburban and regional trade area.

Secondary commercial districts – in outlying areas, serving community or regional trade. These districts tend to resemble small-scale central business districts. Stores in these districts handle a wide range of shopping goods and convenience goods and services for nearby residents. Specialty stores and smaller department stores, carrying lines of merchandise appropriate to the financial status of residents of the trade area, are usually found in these districts.

Local business districts – which tend to be small groups of stores selling groceries, drugs and other convenience goods as well as a few specialty shops and local services such as barber and beauty shops. Stores and services in these districts are largely dependent upon people living within a ten or fifteen minute walking distance.

Scattered retail stores – in most older sections of the city (and occasionally in new sections as well) there are isolated retail stores such as a corner grocery or drug store or a filling station. Seldom are more than two or three stores found in these groups and often they tend to be marginal businesses which depend upon people within the block or no more than five-minutes walking distance. If there are more than two or three stores in these groups, they are not scattered stores but assume many of the characteristics of a neighborhood business district.

Neighborhood Business Districts

Early zoning ordinances seldom made distinctions between different types of business districts, except that taller buildings were permitted in central business districts. All business districts in the city were subject to the same use regulations: a list of specified industrial uses were prohibited and all other uses were permitted in neighborhood business districts as well as in the central business district. Gradually, commercial zoning has been refined to a point where it is common to find a modern zoning ordinance establishing different regulations for anywhere from three to six or more types of business districts.

This report analyzes zoning provisions for local business districts — neighborhood business districts and convenience store districts — to find the ways in which zoning ordinances regulate and classify business uses.


In general, the purpose of a neighborhood business district is to furnish convenience goods to the surrounding residential district. Several zoning ordinances specifically state their intent for these districts.

The Greensboro, North Carolina, zoning ordinance (1954) describes its Commercial N District as follows: "Primarily for the conduct of retail trade in outlying shopping areas with emphasis an daily necessities for the convenience of surrounding residential areas."

Chicago Heights, Illinois (1953) includes the following statement of intent describing the types of uses permitted in the Neighborhood Shopping District: "It is intended that the retail uses shall be similar to those permitted in the R-S Retail Shopping District; and shall, in addition, require off-street parking for these uses." The Retail Shopping District uses are described as follows: "It is intended that retail uses shall be limited to those used by pedestrians and to those which do not interfere with pedestrian movement."

The zoning ordinance for South Euclid, Ohio (1954) includes a more extensive statement of the purposes of all business districts established in the ordinance:

Various business districts and their regulations are established to promote the general convenience, welfare and prosperity of the community. More specific purposes are:

  1. to provide for sufficient but not excessive business districts — Local Business District in close proximity to and catering to the ordinary shopping needs of the immediate neighborhood — and General Business District at greater distances, serving the extraordinary needs .of the entire community; and
  2. to protect adjacent residential developments by restricting the types of business uses, particularly at the common boundaries, which would create hazards, noise, odors, or other objectionable influences; and
  3. to protect both residential and business developments from congestion by regulating the intensity of business developments; and by requiring off-street parking and loading facilities; and
  4. to encourage the tendency of business to group in centers and with sufficient depth from the street to satisfy the needs of modern developments, to the mutual advantage of customers and merchants; and
  5. to promote the most desirable land uses in accordance with a well-considered plan, to stabilize residential and business developments, and to enhance values.

Permitted Uses

Whether the purpose is specifically stated or not, it is reflected in the uses permitted in neighborhood business districts. Usually these uses consist of:

a) a core of convenience stores selling items such as groceries, drugs, hardware or clothing, and businesses performing convenience services
b) small shops selling shopping goods
c) non-retail uses.

Local sales and services

In addition to the usual convenience goods stores, most ordinances permit a number of small stores and shops which sell shopping and specialty items, and may or may not draw most of their customers from the surrounding area.

With few exceptions, retail uses permitted in neighborhood business districts have the following characteristics in common:

a) Type of product sold – usually small enough to be carried away on foot or in an automobile.
b) Operation within an enclosed building – with the exception of automotive services.
c) Hours of operation – most stores are of the type open only during the day and early evening. (Some ordinances specify permitted hours of operation.)
d) Vehicular traffic – most of the stores do not attract large numbers of automobiles, and service to these stores is relatively infrequent and seldom involves heavy trucking.
e) Primarily for pedestrian shoppers – few ordinances permit drive-in uses other than filling stations.
f) Small in size – some ordinances specify maximum permissible floor area for particular businesses.
g) Manufacturing limited to products sold on premises – the few limited manufacturing processes permitted must be accessory to the primary purpose of the business which is retail sales.

Table 1 consists of a list of retail sales and service establishments permitted in neighborhood business districts in selected zoning ordinances. The ordinances used in this table and Table 2 were selected to include ordinances from cities and counties of all sizes and to include all sections of the United States. Only permissive ordinances were used and those ordinances which included copies of the zoning maps were selected in preference to those for which maps were not available.

In some ordinances, these districts are called "neighborhood business districts," but others use names such as "local commercial districts," "business districts," or "retail shopping districts." The districts used in these tables are those which perform the function of neighborhood business districts, regardless of the name applied to the district in the ordinance.

Non-retail uses

In most of the ordinances analyzed in Table 2, the types of non-retail uses permitted in neighborhood business districts are similar to those permitted in other ordinances. However, the lists of specific uses show great differences in the non-retail uses permitted in the several cities.

Table 1

Retail Sales and Services Permitted in Neighborhood Business Districts in Selected Zoning Ordinances

Permitted Uses Bismarck, N.D. Buffalo Chicago Chicago Heights, Ill. Eugene, OR Fort Worth Greensboro, NC Kenosha, Wisconsin Maricopa County, Arizona Montgomery County, Ohio Muskegon, Mich. Providence Salt Lake County
Retail Sales and Services       a         a b b    
Food-Drug Sales Group                          
Bakery shop x x x x x x c x x   x x x
Candy, confectionery x x     x x   x x       x
Dairy bar, ice cream x           x           x
Delicatessen x x     x x x x     x x x
Drug store x x     x x x x   x x x x
Food processing for sale on premises             d            
Grocery x x     x x x x   x x x x
Health food                         x
Meat markets x x     x x   x     x x  
Package liquor store x   x       x         x  
Popcorn, nut store                         x
Poultry, fish       d                 x
Food Services Group                          
Catering, lunch service           x x           x
Refreshment stand, soda fountain x         x             x
Restaurant (no dancing, entertainment) x e x x x x x x x x     x
Restaurant: drive-in             x           f
Tavern, bar       x         g x     h
Variety Goods                          
Department store           x x            
Dry goods         x x              
Five and ten x                        
Notions, variety store x x     x x x x       x x
Pawn shop, second hand store             x            
Clothing Group                          
Accessories x x       x x x       x  
Clothing x x       x x x       x  
Dressmaker, tailor x x   x x x x x x     x x
Furrier       x                  
Milliner x x x   x   x x       x  
Shoes: sale   x     x   x x       x  
Shoes: repair x x x   x   x x c x x x x
Cleaning, dyeing agency           c i   j       x
Dry cleaning: plant       k   c i   j        
Dry cleaning: pick-up station x x x   x x x x x x x x x
Fur cleaning, storage             x            
Hat cleaning, blocking             x            
Laundry: plant             i            
Laundry: hand     x       x            
Laundry: pick-up station x x x   x x x x   x x x x
Laundry: self-service x x   x x x x   c       x
Pressing shop           c i           x
Personal Services                          
Barber shop x x x x x x x x x x x x x
Beauty shop x x x x x x x x x x x x x
Shoe shine shop                          
Automotive Group                          
Filling station x x x x x x x x x x x   x
Parking lot   x   x     x x x       x
Repair garage     x         x c x      
Sales: new     x     x x   c        
Sales: used     x     x x            
Motorcycle sales           x              
Trailer sales           x              
Sales, repair x         x x     l      
Upholstering                   l     x
Appliances x x x   x m x     l   x x
Bicycles           x             x
Gunsmith, locksmith             x           x
Hardware x x     x x x     x   x n
Paint             x            
Plumbing, heating           m       l      
Radio, television       x     x   c       x
Wallpaper           x              
Books-Stationery Group                          
Books x x     x x x x x     x x
Greeting cards                         x
Magazines x x       x x         x  
Newspapers x x       x x         x x
Stationery x x     x x x         x x
Art-Antique-Jewelry Group                          
Antique store x     x   x x x x        
Art gallery             x x x        
Art shop           x   x x       x
Art needlework                         x
Flower shop, florist x x     x x x x       x x
Gift shop x x     x x x x       x x
Glass and china                         x
Jewelry, watches: sales x x     x x x         x  
Jewelry, watches: repairs             x            
Music, piano store x         x x         x  
Opticians, oculists           x x           x
Photographer x x     x x x x x     x x
Hobby-Toy-Pet Group                          
Aquariums           x              
Bird stores           x x           x
Camera stores x           x           x
Hand workshop     x                    
Hobby shop x                        
Pet shop             x            
Sporting goods             x           x
Taxidermists             x            
Toys x                        
Agricultural Group                          
Feed and seed             x            
Fertilizer             x            
Greenhouse                         x
Nursery           x     x        
Business Services                          
Advertising agency             x            
Bank x x x x x x x x x   x    
Blueprinting           x              
     photostating           x              
Office equipment x           x            
Office supply             x            
Printing shop                   l      
Sign painting             x   c        
Baby formula service                         x
Baby sitters agency                         x
Bus passenger station             x            
Christmas trees           x             x
Cold storage locker x     x   o x           p
Diaper service                         x
Fuel oil, coal             q            
Funeral home   x x     x x     l x    
Ice dealers, storage       r   s             t

Footnotes to Table 1

a. Retail sales.
b. "Any retail sales or service establishments such as . . ." [those listed below].
c. Floor area not to exceed 3,000 sq. ft.
d. No killing on site.
e. No alcoholic beverages on a lot in a C1 district located in the same block frontage as any R district or frontage directly across the street from any R district.
f. No alcoholic beverages.
g. Use permit required.
h. Beer for consumption on premises permitted in C-1L District.
i. Floor area not to exceed 2,000 sq. feet.
j. Floor area not more than 3,000 sq. ft; all solvents, shampoos, detergents and other agents shall be of chlorinated solvent type and non-combustible and non-explosive and having a rating of 5 or under by Underwriters Laboratories, Inc.
k. Employing less than 5 persons and using carbon tetrachloride or other non-inflammable cleaning fluid.
l. In "Major" B-1 Neighborhood Business District.
m. Small shops limited to neighborhood service.
n. Not including sale of powered vehicles with motors greater than 1 h.p.
o. When incidental to a grocery store.
p. For personal use only.
q. When sold in cans of 5 gallons capacity or less.
r. No ice manufacture.
s. 7 1/2 tons storage capacity.
t. 5 tons storage capacity.

Table 2

Non-Retail Uses Permitted in Neighborhood Business Districts in Selected Zoning Ordinances

Permitted Uses Bismarck, N.D. Buffalo Chicago Chicago Heights, Ill. Eugene, OR Fort Worth Greensboro, NC Kenosha, Wisconsin Maricopa County, Arizona Montgomery County, Ohio Muskegon, Mich. Providence Salt Lake County
Commercial Recreation             x            
Billiard, pool room                   x      
Bowling alley       x         x        
Clubs, lodges   x   x   x x x x        
Golf: driving range           x              
Golf: miniature     x     x             x
Massage, health treatments           x              
Physical culture establishment             x            
Theaters: indoor       x   a x     b x    
Theaters: drive-in                 c        
Turkish bath           x              
Advertising agency             x            
Brokerage             x            
Business         x         x     x
General       x     x            
Governmental       x     x         x  
Insurance agency             x            
Personal loan             x            
Professional x x x x x x x x x x x x x
Real estate             x            
Public recreation               x x x      
Assembly hall           a x            
Banquet center                 x        
Community center x       x x x            
Golf course x       x x x   x        
Library         x   x x         x
Meeting room                 x        
Museum x   x     x x x          
Park x       x x x x x        
Playground x       x x x x x        
Stadium             x            
Swimming pool x           x            
Public utilities                         x
Electric substation x x   x     x            
Gas regulator station       x                  
Sewage, water pumping station x     x                  
Telegraph office       x                  
Telephone exchange   x   x     x x          
Transmission line x           x            
Commercial (art, drama, dancing)   x x x   x x   x       x
Kindergarten         x x             x
Private   x           x          
Dwellings x x x x x x   x x x x x x
Church   x     x x x x x        
Fire station x       x                
Hospital, clinic   x   x x     x x x     x
Hotel           x     x b      
Laboratory             x            
Motel x           x   x        
Radio-television station             x            
Storage (under cover)             x            
Taxi-cab stand             d           x
Trailer court                 c        
Wholesale establishment                 c        

Footnotes to Table 2

a. Seating capacity not more than 1,500 persons.
b. In "Major" B-1 Neighborhood Business District.
c. Use permit required.
d. Limited to 5 taxis.
e. Floor area not more than 3,000 sq. ft.

Manner of operation

Provisions regulating manner of operation have two purposes: to keep the uses appropriate to a neighborhood business district, and to prevent practices that will be harmful to nearby residential districts.

Among the most common requirements are that only new products may be sold in these districts, that businesses must be conducted within enclosed buildings, and that manufacturing processes be limited to products sold at retail on the premises. Less frequently, requirements limit the hours of operation of businesses in these districts, regulate the sale of alcoholic beverages at restaurants, or prescribe size limitations on all or particular businesses.

Limitations on manufacturing — Ordinances commonly permit bakery shops and other retail stores to manufacture some articles for sale on the premises, but they prohibit manufacturing of products to be sold elsewhere.

In addition, ordinances limit the extent of manufacturing by specifying a maximum number of employees who may be engaged in a manufacturing process, by limiting the size and power of machines used, and by regulating the total floor area of the building, and of floor area which may be used for manufacturing. Table 3 summarizes the limitations on manufacturing in selected zoning ordinances.

Table 3

Limitations on Manufacturing in Neighborhood Business Districts in Selected Zoning Ordinances

Zoning Ordinance Maximum number of persons employed in processing Maximum horsepower of machines Other requirements
Chicago Heights, Ill. (1953) 10   no more than 25% of floor area used for manufacturing.
East Orange, New Jersey, (1949) 5 total load – 5 steam plant not over 100 lb. pressure.
Eugene, Oregon (1952) 4    
Fort Worth, Texas (1952)   total – 5 maximum of 50% of floor area devoted to manufacturing. specified uses (bakeries, cleaning and dyeing) total floor area not over 3,000 square feet.
La Grange, Ill. (1944) 5    
Maricopa County, Arizona (amended to 1954)     craft shops – maximum floor area, 3,000 square feet.
Muskegon, Michigan (1952) 2 1 machine – 1 total – 3  
Ottawa, Kansas (1947)   shops for custom work total – 5 maximum 50% of floor area.
Springfield, Oregon (1947) 4    

Enclosure within a building — Ordinances commonly require that all retail stores be operated entirely within enclosed buildings. The only exceptions to this requirement are for automotive services such as filling stations and parking lots. Usually the ordinance includes specification standards governing curb cuts, conduct of all services within the property line, and screening from adjacent residential districts. Requirements of this kind are reported in two previous PLANNING ADVISORY SERVICE Information Reports, No. 57, Zoning for Parking Areas In and Near Residential Districts (December 1953) and No. 67, Regulation of Filling Stations (October 1954).

Sale of new goods only — Ordinances which require that only new goods be sold in neighborhood business districts generally exclude the sale of antiques and art objects. This exception is made in the zoning ordinance of Glendale, California (amended to 1952). Montgomery County, Ohio, states that goods sold in these districts shall consist primarily of new merchandise. In only one ordinance listed in Table 1 (Greensboro), are pawn shops and second-hand stores permitted.

Hours of operation — Few ordinances specify business hours for these districts, but Dallas, Texas, in its LR-1 district permits stores to remain open only between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. Bristol, Connecticut, in its Necessary Retail Store District requires that all businesses close by midnight.

Consumption of liquor on premises — Restaurants permitted in neighborhood business districts are often prohibited from serving alcoholic beverages on the premises. Undoubtedly local and state liquor laws have affected these provisions.

Limitations on size — While ordinances often limit the amount of space that may be devoted to manufacturing, they seldom place a maximum on building area. The Fort Worth, Texas, ordinance does, however, place a maximum size of 2,500 square feet on all businesses in an "E-R" Restricted Commercial District. La Grange, Illinois imposes an indirect size limitation by limiting the total number of employees in a retail store to five in an F Local Commercial District.

Maricopa County, Arizona, limits the size of craft shops to 3,000 square feet, and Fort Worth. Texas, limits the size of dry cleaning plants and laundries to the same size. Greensboro, North Carolina, limits the size of bakery shops to 3,000 square feet and cleaning and dyeing shops, pressing shops, and dry cleaning plants to 2, 000 square feet.

Density, Bulk and Other Regulations

Use regulations are only part of the requirements needed to see that the neighborhood business districts will serve residents without adversely affecting the surrounding residential areas. Ordinances also control the manner in which land is used in these districts by regulating lot sizes, requiring yards, specifying maximum building heights, ground coverage and floor area ratios. Offstreet parking is almost always required of business uses and some ordinances require off-street loading spaces as well. Signs and billboards are strictly limited within these districts.

Minimum lot sizes for business uses

While minimum lot sizes are often specified for residential uses in neighborhood business districts, minimum sizes for commercial lots are less common. Minimum lot sizes for dwellings are usually the same as those for multiple dwelling or apartment districts.

A few ordinances require minimum lot sizes for business uses.

Bismarck, North Dakota, requires a minimum lot size of 5,000 square feet for commercial buildings, but business structures may also be built on lots of record as small as 4,000 square feet. A minimum lot width of 50 feet measured along the front building line is also required. A business building may be erected on a lot of record less than 50 feet in width but not less than 40 feet wide.

Eugene, Oregon, requires that:

Lots shall have a minimum average width of forty (40) feet and a minimum area of four thousand (4,000) square feet, except that where a lot has an average width of less than forty (40) feet and an area of less than four thousand (4,000) square feet at the time this Ordinance became effective, such lot may be occupied by any use permitted in this section.

Yard requirements

Yard requirements may be broken down into two categories:

a) yards required for residential uses
b) yards required for commercial uses

As in minimum lot size requirements, most yard requirements for residential uses are the same requirements as in multi-family districts.

For business uses, front and rear yards are generally required in the ordinance. Side yards are seldom required for business uses except when the commercial lot adjoins a residential district or is a corner lot. However, if side yards are provided in neighborhood business districts, they must be of a specified minimum width to permit access between buildings.

Table 4 summarizes the yard requirements for business uses in a number of ordinances.

Table 4

Required Yards for Business Uses in Neighborhood Business Districts in Selected Zoning Ordinances

Zoning Ordinance Required Yards
Front Rear Side
Bismarck, North Dakota 15' 10' none required except where such lot adjoins a lot in a residential or agricultural district – must then conform with requirements for that district.
Chicago Heights, Ill. none not less than 25% of lot depth but need not exceed 25' none, except that when a building abuts a residential district, 10% of lot width or 5', whichever is greater, but need not exceed 10'.
Dallas   none, except when lot abuts residential district and is not separated by an alley, then 20% of lot depth. none, except adjacent to residential district and not separated by alley, then 10' or 10% of lot width, whichever is smaller, but not less than 5'.
Corner lot - 10'.
Etobicoke Township, Canada 20' – may be used for parking for store patrons.    
Fort Worth not less than 25'. not less than 25% of lot depth but need not exceed 25'. none, but if provided shall be not less than 3'; adjacent to R district – 5'; corner lot – 50% of required front yard.
Glendale, California 15' from property line, planted and maintained in lawn trees, shrubs. 20'  
Montgomery County, Ohio 25' from right-of-way, except 75' when located across from R-1, R-2, R-3 district – parking and loading, permitted not less than 25' from r-o-w. 40' none required except adjoining any "R" district, then not less than 10'.
Mesa, Arizona contiguous to Residence District same as in that district. 15' when adjacent to R district. when lot in Business A district adjoins lot in Residence District, must equal side yard required in R district unless the R lot is used for parking as permitted in the ordinance.
Muskegon, Michigan   l-story – 20'
2-story – 25'
Salt Lake County 20', for all buildings, walls, fences over 2' in height. none, except where corner lot rears upon lot in residential zone, then 10'. none, except on lot adjacent to residential zone boundary, then 10'; on corner lots, side facing street, 20'.

Ground coverage and floor area ratios

Some ordinances specify the maximum permissible percentage of the lot area that may be occupied by commercial buildings:

Bismarck, North Dakota – 75%
Eugene, Oregon – 80%
Salt Lake County, Utah – 60%

The floor area ratio, a relatively new device, is now being used in several ordinances to regulate building bulk. The formula for a floor area ratio is figured as follows:

Floor area ratio = Total floor area of building
  Total lot area

Here are two zoning ordinance requirements for floor area ratios in neighborhood business districts:

Bismarck, North Dakota – 0.75 for single-story buildings
  1.50 for buildings more than one story
Dearborn, Michigan – 1. 50

Height regulations

Most ordinances limit building height to two or three stories or 30 to 45 feet. At least one ordinance, that of Greensboro, North Carolina, places no height limitation on buildings in neighborhood business districts, while another, Maricopa County, Arizona, permits buildings of eight stories or 96 feet.

Signs and billboards

If neighborhood business districts are to be located near residential districts, then clearly they are not appropriate locations for billboards or flashing, intermittent signs. Most zoning ordinances recognize this and allow only small signs identifying stores or products sold within the stores. In addition, overhanging signs are often prohibited, and only signs attached flat to the face of buildings are permitted in these districts.

The following are some more or less typical examples of sign regulations for neighborhood business districts:

Salt Lake County, Utah
Any exterior sign displayed shall pertain only to a use conducted within the building or on the lot or shall appertain to the lease or sale of the property. In no case shall a sign project above the height of the building. Lighted signs shall not employ flashing or intermittent illumination.

Palo Alto, California – C-1 Neighborhood Business District
Exterior signs pertaining to the business use conducted on the premises, provided that no such sign shall project more than one (1) foot from any wall, and that the aggregate area of all such signs shall not exceed five (5) square feet, and that no such sign shall be illuminated or project above the cornice or roof line.

Chicago Heights, Illinois – Neighborhood Business District
Signs: only when attached to a building and describing the business carried on therein.

Montgomery County, Ohio – B-1 Neighborhood Business District
Any exterior sign shall pertain only to a use conducted within the building and be integral or attached thereto. No sign may project over any street line or extend more than four (4) feet over any building line whether fixed to the building or to any other structure. In no case shall any sign project more than three (3) feet above the roof line, or exceed one and one-half (1 l/2) square feet in area for every foot occupied by the front of the building displaying such sign. Where the lot adjoins an "B" District, the exterior sign shall be attached flat against the building and shall not face the side of the adjacent lot located in the "R" District.

Directional and other incidental signs, not exceeding four (4) square feet in area, required in connection with the operation of an automobile service station, parking lot, or similar establishment, provided such signs do not extend over street right-of-way lines nor otherwise obstruct or impair the safety of pedestrians or motorists.

Off-street parking and loading

While off-street parking is usually required for commercial uses in neighborhood business districts, standards are usually lower than those for planned shopping centers. One reason is that it is practically impossible to require as much off-street parking in built-up areas as is desirable in newly developed shopping centers, another that shopping centers are designed for shoppers who use their automobiles, while neighborhood business districts are primarily for pedestrian shoppers.

Off-street parking requirements in present zoning ordinances are well covered in Highway Research Board Bulletins No. 24, Zoning far Parking Facilities (1950) and No. 99, Parking Requirements in Zoning Ordinances (1954) which is a supplement te the previous report. Requirements for business uses are handled on pages 58–65 of the earlier bulletin and pages 45–51 of the supplement.

A summary of zoning requirements for off-street loading may be found in Highway Research Baard Bulletin No. 59, Zoning for Truck-Loading Facilities.

Convenience Store Districts

Few zoning ordinances have established districts specially intended to permit only convenience stores. In some cases, the areas in which these stores are located have been classified residential and the stores considered nonconforming uses. In other cases, the land on which these isolated stores are located has been zoned for business – which may well be considered as cases of spot zoning.

Some cities have, however, established special limited business districts in which the number of different uses permitted is small. One such district is the Necessary Retail Store District in the zoning ordinance of Bristol, Connecticut (amended to 1948) in which only the following products may be sold:

  1. The sale of gasoline, oil and other small automobile supplies such as are regularly sold at a gasoline station.
  2. Groceries and such supplies as are ordinarily sold at a retail grocery establishment.
  3. Drugs and other products ordinarily sold at a drugstore.

The sale of intoxicating liquors for consumption on the premises, or conducting a roadhouse, dance hall or other form of business, other than the above permitted, is hereby expressly forbidden in such a zone.

Only three such districts appear on the zoning map. There are also approximately thirty business zones in the city besides the central business district, in which only specified industrial uses are prohibited. In all cases, these districts are completely surrounded by residential districts and are a considerable distance from other business districts.

The West Bend, Wisconsin, zoning ordinance (amended to 1945) establishes a Neighborhood Shopping District in which the list of permitted uses is somewhat larger than in the Bristol district. The following uses are permitted:

Any use permitted in the Residence District: and
(1) Retail food stores except bakeries employing more than five persons.
(2) Retail confectionery stores.
(3) Retail art and gift shops.
(4) Retail dry goods and clothing stores.
(5) Retail drug stores.
(6) Barber and beauty shops.
(7) Professional and business offices.

At least two zoning ordinances establish districts resembling convenience store zones as special types of neighborhood business districts. These districts are always surrounded by residential districts and they are small in size. In the Muskegon, Michigan, ordinance, for example, the following provision is included in the requirements for the B-1 Neighborhood Business District:

. . . in any "B-1" District entirely surrounded by residence districts, the greatest dimension of which is less than eight hundred (800) feet, the foregoing retail business or service establishments shall be limited to such as supply commodities or perform services for the residents of the surrounding neighborhood.

Montgomery County, Ohio, establishes a "Minor" B-1 Neighborhood Business District in which stores are limited to those selling convenience goods. A "Minor" B-1 district, as described by the ordinance, is one which is entirely surrounded by "R" districts and which contains less than five acres, including streets.

The zoning ordinance of Fort Worth, Texas, contains regulations for an "E-R" Restricted Commercial District in which uses are limited to convenience stores and services:

Any use permitted in the "C" Apartment District.
Auto parking areas, for passenger cars only.
Barber and beauty shops.
Book or stationery stores, or news stands.
Cleaning, pressing and laundry collection offices.
Custom dressmaking or millinery shops.
Doctors or dentists offices, clinics, or medical, surgical or dental laboratories.
Grocery stores and meat markets.
Photograph, portrait or camera shops and photo finishing.
Studios for artists.
Accessory buildings and uses customarily incident to any of the above uses including air conditioners, ice and refrigerating plants purely incidental to the main activity permitted on the premises.
No accessory use shall be construed to permit the keeping of articles or materials in the open or outside the building.

In addition, the ordinance requires that all uses be conducted entirely within an enclosed building and that no building shall exceed 2,500 square feet of floor area.

It is impossible to determine the conditions under which "E-R" districts are intended to be used because the zoning map shows no such districts. Neighborhood shopping is handled by approximately 150 "E" Commercial Districts. (See Table 1.) However, the limitation upon the size of stores permitted in these "E-R" districts indicates that they are probably intended to be located near residential areas where the regulations of the "E" Commercial District are not stringent enough to safeguard the neighborhood.

Summary and Conclusions

The chief problems in zoning for neighborhood business districts are:

a) the selection of a list of permitted uses which is small enough to include only those retail sales and service establishments which depend primarily upon neighborhood trade and yet a list large enough to cover the demands of local residents for convenience goods and;

b) the development of bulk, density, parking and loading regulations which will recognize the realities of existing development standards and also protect nearby residential districts.

The list of permitted retail sales and services in Table 1 shows the wide range of uses permitted in neighborhood business districts in different cities. The ordinances agree that certain uses, such as grocery and drug stores, variety and hardware stores, restaurants, and laundry and dry-cleaning pick-up stations, are suitable uses in neighborhood business districts.

However, uncommon uses such as greenhouses, feed and seed stores, taxidermists shops, and similar stores were permitted in only one or two ordinances. It is possible that some of these uses are, in fact, customary neighborhood businesses in the cities in which they are permitted. It is also possible that these are stores which do not depend upon the neighborhood for the bulk of their trade.

Between the two extremes lie a number of uses which are difficult to classify — stores which may under certain conditions actually serve the neighborhood in which they are located, but which would be out of place in other districts. Antique stores or art shops are typical of these neither-black-nor-white uses: in one neighborhood business district, an antique store might draw as many as 80 to 90 percent of its trade from the surrounding residential area, in another, most of its customers might travel miles to buy a particular specialty of the shop.

Another problem in considering the uses permitted in neighborhood business districts is that of stores which are too small or too marginal to justify a location in the central business district or a planned shopping center. For example, a rare stamp dealer might have customers scattered throughout the city, but because his business is small, be unable to afford a shop in the downtown area. Through necessity, he is forced to sacrifice the advantages of a central location in order to find a shop where he can pay a lower rent.

Problems such as this pose the basic question in zoning for neighborhood business districts: What is the most desirable function for neighborhood business districts? Are they to be limited to those retail sales and services which are operated primarily for the residents of the neighborhood, or are these districts to be handled as retail areas in which all small shops and stores are permitted so long as they are relatively inoffensive?

Stated another way, this problem becomes: How many types of uses should be permitted in neighborhood business districts? Should the number be kept at a minimum to limit the uses to purely local sales and services? Or should a larger group of uses be permitted and allow competition to determine which stores and services survive within the district?

A partial solution to these problems may lie in use of more "convenience store" districts, in which uses are strictly limited to those which are almost exclusively dependent upon neighborhood trade. The creation of districts of this type may lead to cries of "spot zoning," but in nearly every ordinance studied in preparing this report, there were examples of neighborhood business districts consisting of only three or four lots or only the four corners of an intersection. One ordinance permitted as many as 162 business uses (in addition to those permitted in residential districts) in these "spot" districts.

Some ordinances recognize that it is impossible to require existing neighborhood business districts to meet standards now considered desirable for modern shopping centers. This is specially true of requirements for off-street parking, where more parking spaces are required for new shopping centers designed to handle large numbers of customers driving their automobiles than for neighborhood business districts which depend primarily upon pedestrian shoppers.

Neighborhood business districts point up the limitations upon the use of zoning as a tool for improving land use in the community. Conditions existing in these areas at the time the zoning ordinance is passed determine to a large degree the regulations which may be imposed upon uses in these districts and the locations of the districts. The zoning regulations may do little more than keep these conditions from getting worse and limit the undue expansion of commercial uses into adjacent residential districts.

Copyright, American Society of Planning Officials, 1955.