In order for place-based economic development to thrive, supportive regulatory environments must be in place. Place-based industries such as agri-tourism and microbreweries have only recently gained popularity and therefore are often unaccounted for in comprehensive plans and zoning restrictions. It is important that appropriate considerations be made in local codes to allow these businesses to be successful, while continuing to protect the best interests of the community.
Comprehensive plans are used to formalize the long-term land-use goals of communities into public policy. Through comprehensive plans, local government officials have the ability to plan for place-based industries. Georgetown, Delaware recently amended its comprehensive plan map to allow a brewery to be located near the town center. Georgetown changed the designation of the specified parcel to allow for light industrial uses, allowing the brewery to produce and sell its beer on-site. Georgetown’s local officials recognized that a microbrewery could contribute positively to their community and altered the town’s comprehensive plan.
Local governments can support place-based businesses by adjusting zoning codes. Traditional zoning did not predict for the rise in on-farm processing, wineries, trap-shooting facilities, or pick-your own operations. Fortunately, local governments have the power to define what constitutes agri-tourism and other types of place-based industries, stipulate criteria that businesses must meet to operate, and adjust zoning ordinances where applicable. When the founding partners of Painted Stave Distilling decided to launch their business in Smyrna’s former movie theater, the town updated its zoning ordinance in order to make the partners’ vision a reality. Local governments can seize opportunities for economic development while protecting the best interests of the citizens by embracing zoning flexibility. The City of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware adopted a Farmers’ Market ordinance in 2007 to “give residents and visitors…an opportunity to purchase fresh produce and other food products… provide a market for local growers, and foster a sense of community.”
Businesses and local governments are natural partners in implementing place-based economic development. Delaware’s Main Street towns use the Main Street Four-Point Approach® to leverage the economic, cultural, and historic resources of downtowns districts to increase business and job opportunities. For example, Downtown Milford, Delaware has branded itself as a “River Town, Art Town, Home Town.” By promoting local artists, Milford is adding to the artist’s notoriety and solidifying its own reputation as a haven for creativity.