x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Flexible zoning for entrepreneurs

Enforcing zoning regulations is integral to a well-functioning city but so are small businesses. Consideration must be made for both as regulators chart a path for businesses to be removed from villas in the capital.

Khalid Walid Ghannam is typical of small business operators everywhere. The general manager of restaurants and cafes in the capital, he works hard to keep costs down and profits up. Villa office space, significantly cheaper than other options, has long been one way to balance this equation.

But as we report today, the use of villa offices may soon be a thing of the past for small operators in Abu Dhabi. New regulations will seek to ban commercial businesses from setting up shop in residential dwellings. For Mr Ghannam and others like him the only option will be to relocate to high-rent buildings, upwards of 20 per cent more expensive.

"We are facing a lot of trouble," he says bluntly.

Complaints about traffic and a lack of parking in residential neighbourhoods has prompted the Municipality of Abu Dhabi to explore the directive, and restrict businesses to areas identified and zoned as commercial. While no formal rule change has been announced, Government officials say changes are sorely needed.

"A prerequisite to the exercise of commercial activities is that they shouldn't cause a nuisance for residents of the area," Owaida al Qubaisi, acting executive director of municipal services, told The National.

City officials have said the shift will be gradual, and could include exemptions for businesses like clinics, spas and nurseries. The proposed changes will also help fill new office buildings now under construction, giving landlords of these complexes a lift. Office space is expected to grow by 50 per cent over the next two years.

Left in the lurch, however, will be small enterprises that already have a tough time making ends meet. The enforcement of zoning regulations is a key component of a functional city. Grievances about noise and parking are also valid concerns. But punishing small business owners - critical components of a diversified economy - is not a productive.

Encouraging innovation involves providing business owners the ability to find low-cost solutions to basic problems. Only with flexibility and Government support will businessmen like Mr Ghannam remain successful.