Will new zoning on the waterfront deter or draw development?

We won’t know for many years if the Master Plan for the Central Delaware is a real life success story. But in an opinion piece in today’s Daily News, Matt Ruben, Chair of the Central Delaware Advisory Group, thinks we’ll know that the plan is working by a much simpler measure: if vacant waterfront land starts selling.

The Waterfront Plan’s force comes through zoning changes, both through the new code and a forthcoming Waterfront Zoning Overlay. The revised zoning requires setbacks from the waterfront and is likely to include provisions to allow trail access and protect key viewsheds to the river down city streets. But some waterfront property owners, through their consultants the Development Workshop, complain that these zoning controls will be the impediments to development and will actually reduce the value of private property on the waterfront.

But what if the new waterfront zoning actually drives development?

Ruben writes: Whether this objection is the prelude to a lawsuit, an attempt to torpedo the Master Plan or simply a bargaining chip meant to extract a pre-emptive monetary settlement for waterfront owners from our city’s cash-strapped treasury is anyone’s guess.

But if the new zoning code goes into effect, and the economy continues to improve (however slowly), and someone comes along and purchases one of these waterfront properties, then the entire argument becomes moot. For if properties start to change hands, then the market itself will have affirmed what advocates of the Master Plan already believe, and what William Penn and his investors proved 340 years ago: if you run a street right-of-way through a large parcel, you increase its street frontage, which can actually increase the value of the property and make it easier, not harder, to sell or develop.

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