Dothan is hoping to breathe new life into older neighborhoods — many in the city’s historical district.
Dothan is considering amending the city’s zoning ordinance to allow the revival of walk-up “mom and pop” shops in longstanding vacant buildings.
“We’ve got a pretty large number of commercial buildings in our traditional neighborhood areas of the city that for many years have just been sitting idle, and they are not contributing, except to become derelict buildings,” Dothan city senior planner Frank Breaux said.
The Planning and Development Department proposed a boundary in Dothan’s inner circle to allow “neighborhood commercial establishments” that would be subject to special principal use standards inspired by similar city action in Shreveport, Louisiana, for certain types of businesses in existing commercial buildings.
Local grocers, laundromats, salons and retailers were often built in neighborhoods to serve the immediate community in the middle part of the last century. They were built as walking destinations and were not designed like modern shopping facilities.
“It’s unreasonable to expect them provide off-street parking and other modern code standards, but these buildings are unique and part of the neighborhood fabric,” City Manager Kevin Cowper said.
As people moved outward from Dothan’s inner circle after World War II, these small businesses that once contributed to the charm and vibrancy of some of the city’s older neighborhoods slowly died.
A large number of these unoccupied buildings along East Burdeshaw and East Adams streets can be seen in poor condition.
Over time, Cowper, said things like neighborhood markets have been quite literally zoned out of existence due to their inability to conform to modern regulations like providing off-street parking.
“One of things I’ve talked about historically has been that we’re our own worst enemy with a lot of things. We put up regulatory barriers that inhibit business and cause neighborhood decline and blight,” Cowper said.
Businesses unable to reopen have caused “food deserts,” where people have limited access to healthy food sources in communities where vehicle ownership is low.
“That’s how people went shopping. Those services were close to where they lived. We still have a need for that,” Breaux said.
Primarily, the amendment seeks to alleviate the business owner’s burden to provide off-street parking, although existence parking must be maintained.
Cowper said he believes amending Chapter 114 of the zoning ordinance is critical to the success of neighborhood redevelopment programs, outlined in the city’s “Love Dothan” initiatives.
The amendments establish several nonresidential uses permitted within the designated boundary — art galleries and studios, offices, personal service establishments such as dry cleaning and hair salons, restaurants, and retail goods. They preclude drive-thru facilities, outside storage or display and freestanding signs.
Business owners would still have to meet minimum public health and safety standards and existing zoning requirements.
Breaux said there has been a lot of interest from owners to reinvest in older commercial buildings and many are waiting on the amendment’s passage to obtain business licenses.
Special principal use standards would apply to the following areas of the city, regardless of underlying zoning: North Park Avenue from Montgomery Highway south to West Main Street; then continuing south on South Park Avenue to Fortner Street; then east to Fortner Street to South Oates Street; then south on South Oates Street to East Selma Street; then east on East Selma Street to Sixth Avenue to Plant Street; then continuing north on Plant Street to East Burdeshaw Street; then east on East Burdeshaw Street to Ross Clark Circle; then north on Ross Clark Circle to Webb Road; then west on Webb Road to East Stough Street; then continuing west on West Stough Street to Montgomery Highway; then north on Montgomery Highway to North Park Avenue.
On to the commission
The proposed amendments were passed by the Planning Commission in February and introduced to the Dothan City Commission at its June 16 administrative meeting, where they received praise from Mayor Mark Saliba.
Before commissioners can vote on the amendment, it will be presented at a public hearing at the city’s next commission meeting scheduled July 21.