Washington leaders creating ‘eds and meds’ districts

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“Eds and meds” are in the prescription for what ails the outdated zoning plans in Washington and East Washington.


The new comprehensive zoning map revealed to the public Tuesday night shows the creation of education and medical districts that city and borough leaders hope will promote “compatible development” around Washington & Jefferson College and Washington Hospital.


“It’s more than just an update,” Washington Mayor Brenda Davis said. “It’s very comprehensive. To me, it’s a big change because it hasn’t been done in many, many years.”


City and borough officials agreed in 2012 to work on a comprehensive plan that joins the zoning map between the two municipalities. The map, which was discussed over the past year, updates both municipalities’ zoning ordinances and allows various uses in the city while keeping East Washington mostly residential.


The key was trying to mesh different maps for both communities that hadn’t been updated for years into one that works well for both, Davis said. But the most noticeable changes come around W&J, Washington Hospital and the city’s main business district.


Amy Wiles of Mackin Engineering, which helped local leaders with the map, said the zoning won’t necessarily expand the land footprints of the hospital and college, but instead encourage development in those districts that would be suitable for those areas.


“It enhances and encourages development, especially compatible development, around your major institutions,” Wiles said.


Davis pointed to the education district that would promote privately owned bookstores, ice cream parlors or even small, drive-through coffee shops.


Other options might be zoning for “live-work units” for graduates who are interested in starting small businesses around the college. Both districts also would continue to allow for residential uses.


“But there’s more than just the meds and eds,” Davis said.


The zoning includes adjustments to the Main Street business district that Davis hopes will improve the retail and restaurant options in the heart of the city.


Some residents raised concerns about how the changes might affect neighborhoods, including the Highland-Ridge area. But city leaders hope the zoning will improve that area and others by limiting business development from creeping too far into the neighborhoods.


“They want a lot of single-family homes because it changes the character of the community,” said Fred Fleet, president of Highland-Ridge Community Development Corp. “That was my concern at first, so I’m glad to see it.”


The zoning map isn’t a finished product, yet. In addition to Fleet, other residents gave input during Tuesday night’s viewing at Washington High School, and officials still need to complete many more steps before ultimately approving an ordinance next year.


“It’s very valuable to get the feedback from the community,” East Washington Council President Bill Adams said. “Sometimes, the officeholders don’t always see what you see in the community.”


It’s been 15 years since Washington updated its zoning map, while East Washington last made changes in 1985.


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