March 2015

You Asked. We Answered.

At the Inquiry Answer Service, we answer, on average, more than 300 questions for our subscribers each month. We consult a variety of sources to create a custom research packet — which may include APA publications, sample ordinances and plans, articles and literature from partner organizations, and the most current information available online — for each question.

Each month, we choose one question to feature here, so you can see what your peers around the country are asking and how we answered. When your organization subscribes to PAS, you and your colleagues will also have access to previous editions.

You Asked.

How can we create a "food overlay district"?

We would like to create a "food overlay district" that would allow a variety of small-scale food and beverage manufacturing facilities as an outgrowth of our Central Business District. Have any other cities done this, and if not, have they allowed these uses in other ways?

We Answered.

Small-scale or artisan food and beverage manufacturing facilities, such as brewpubs, microbreweries and microdistilleries, coffee roasting facilities, and specialty food producers, are proving to be valuable tools in promoting small-scale entrepreneurship within communities, as well as in helping to catalyze the revitalization of the neighborhoods that these new uses are locating in. 

Though there don't appear to be any communities that have adopted anything specifically identified as a "food overlay district," there are a few examples of local jurisdictions that have adopted provisions for overlay districts that do specifically add small-scale or artisan food and beverage manufacturing as permitted uses in the overlay area.  Coquille, Oregon's Riverfront Mixed Use Overlay District; DeKalb County, Georgia's Tier I Scottdale East Ponce de Leon Avenue/North Decatur Road Corridor Overlay District; and Woodinville, Washington's Tourist District Overlay all add small-scale or artisan food and beverage manufacturing uses to the lists of permitted uses in these areas.

In addition, a growing number of cities and towns are adding definitions and use permissions for small-scale or artisan food and beverage manufacturing to their zoning codes. These ordinances typically permit these uses in many commercial, business, mixed use, and specialty districts; they may impose size restrictions (e.g., less than 10,000 SF) and specify that these facilities include a retail component, provide tours, or have some other on-site customer-focused aspect. Washington State seems to be leading the way in this, though a few towns in Maine have adopted or are considering similar provisions, and Fayetteville, Arkansas, just passed a similar ordinance that allows these uses anywhere a general commercial or restaurant use would be allowed.

Finally, a recent project of the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments (now Networks Northwest) explores the concept of the "food innovation district." These are geographic concentrations of food-oriented businesses, services, and community activities supported by local governments to promote economic development and improve access to local food. These areas work as "food hubs" to develop and strengthen local food systems, encouraging a range of food-related businesses to support local farming and food production and helping connect the community to sources of fresh, healthy local food.

Resource List

Related PAS Products

  • Raja, Samina, Branden Born, and Jessica Kozlowski Russell. 2008. A Planners Guide to Community and Regional Food Planning: Transforming Food Environments, Facilitating Healthy Eating. Planning Advisory Service Report no. 554. Chicago: American Planning Association.

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