Tuesday night, Ashland took a step forward that could actually allow artist studios in the town’s arts district.
Previously, artist studios were considered a manufacturing use and in order to operate within the B-1-zoned arts in cultural district would need to be incidental to retail. They would also require a conditional use permit.
So, even though an overlay district was created in 2012 that provided incentives to enhance arts and cultural offerings in town, actual artists still faced a good amount of red tape before they could actually create anything here.
The issue was brought to the town’s attention last month and fast-tracked through to final approval.
How the zoning faux pas occurred in the first place is anyone’s guess, but we applaud the town for correcting it and, more importantly, responding to citizen comments and concerns.
The change allowing for performing and visual art studios as a permitted use in B-1 areas, likely won’t result in Ashland becoming the next Bohemian art mecca, but does have its benefits.
Some communities have leveraged their arts community for the good of tourism and the local ecnomy. Art walks, where spectators peruse by foot from studio to studio, are a good example.
The city of Richmond has already caught on to this concept with “First Fridays RVA,” a year-round event aimed at attracting crowds to the city’s arts district each first Friday of the month with the hope that they also visit the neighboring shops and restaurants.
In Ashland’s case, this would mean foot traffic in the town’s commercial core and is something that should be considered if the artist population increases in response to this change.
Leveraging Ashland as an arts community will take some time and certainly this zoning change isn’t an overnight fix.
But it’s a good first step in that it at least got the town out of its own way.
We look forward to seeing what follows.