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Day: February 22, 2011

A look at the communities that booted the big box

Of the Keizertimes

Keizer won’t be the first community considering whether to restrict big box retail.

Other cities around the nation have put varying limits on retail size, purpose and placement – and each experience is different.

This week we take a look at three towns, two in Oregon and one in California. The hope is readers can take other perspectives into consideration when deciding how to vote on Keizer’s Measure 24-314. Ballots are due on March 8.

Turlock, Calif.
Thinking twice about discount grocer ban

This city of 69,321 served as a model for cities looking to keep huge discount grocery stores out of town. But now there’s serious talk of rescinding or loosening the ban.

Instead of outright banning large retail buildings, the Turlock City Council took a more narrowed approach, defining what councilors didn’t want in their zoning code. They banned “discount superstores,” which in Turlock’s case was stores with a gross floor area larger than 100,000 square feet and who devote at least 5 percent of said space to non-taxable merchandise.

In California, sales taxes are not applied to many foods.

Walmart took the city to court in both state and federal courts. The California Supreme Court ruled Turlock had the right to enact an ordinance its council felt could harm the town, while a U.S. District Court Judge ruled against Walmart’s challenge that the ban discriminated against a particular type of store and interfered with interstate commerce.

Turlock has other large retailers, like Costco and Home Depot. But some residents considered the large Walmart to be a bridge too far, according to Turlock Mayor John Lazar. He was a city councilor when the ban was passed.

He said the council was in a difficult position at the time, wanting to grow a new shopping development called Monte Vista Crossings, while local grocers and some citizens were fighting the Walmart Supercenter proposal.

“The grocers in our region got very defensive … and shared their concerns,” Lazar said. Here in Keizer, Roth’s Fresh Markets and a grocery union have contributed funds to Keep Keizer Livable.

Sharon Silva, executive director of the Turlock Chamber of Commerce, said local groceries “didn’t want the competition.

“However we all know … that competition is good,” she said. “And there’s all different types and all different levels within your community that are going to be needed.”

“Many council members considered the effects on local groceries and other businesses … possible blight to those areas that might be affected by closure of markets … but more importantly traffic issues in and around this Monte Vista without any improvements,” Lazar said.

The city council passed the ordinance unanimously and successfully defended it in court. But now some want to take another look.

Lazar said he’s conflicted on the issue, but pointed out an existing Target store wanted to add “a specialty grocery … and because of our ordinance we weren’t allowed to bring that in.’
“We’re trying to work with them as well as other potential users to make sure we don’t ignore shopping opportunities for the residents of Turlock,” Lazar said. “… We could ultimately be sued by Walmart if we treat (Target) differently than we did them.”

The chamber didn’t take a position when the discount superstore ban was passed but Silva thinks the restrictions are bad news, calling Costco “a huge and wonderful members of ours.

“I think when we start putting moratoriums on future use it makes it very difficult when your communities grow and develop – and also for economic development,” Silva said.

She doesn’t think the ban has been harmful to the local economy “so far.

“But I think it can be,” Silva said. “I think there’s going to be different areas of the community growing in the next few years (and) larger shopping areas should be available.”

Lazar hasn’t decided which way he’s going to come down.

“I think (the ban) has preserved … a selection as far as other grocers,” he said, and he believes the town would have lost at least one grocery store. “I think our shopping area has been very vibrant. I don’t think we’ve missed out on anything, frankly.”

He also doesn’t fear what he called Walmart’s threats to move to neighboring communities, potentially drawing business away from Turlock.

“I don’t think it’s hurt us,” he said.

That said, he’s “open to new information … understanding the economy has changed a great deal since then. Ultimately the residents of the community are going to have to help us decide whether they want that or not.”

Ashland, Oregon
Banned and loving it

In this southern Oregon enclave of just more than 20,000, big box stores have been banned for nearly 20 years.

A key force in enacting the ban on buildings larger than 45,000 square feet: Local business.

“There was an outlet mall that wanted to come in … that was 100,000 square feet,” said Katharine Flanagan, sales and marketing director at the Ashland Chamber of Commerce. “The effort (to ban) was based in shopping local, supporting local businesses and wanting to foster entrepreneurs, the local businesses Ashland is made up of.”

Bill Molnar, who was at the time and still is the city’s community development director, said as new grocery stores came in they got bigger and bigger, and this was also part of the reason city councilors wanted to get a ban in place.

“I think there was just some concern from the community about losing small-town character,” Molnar said.

Other factors are not attractive to big box retailers, Molnar said – maintaining historic development patterns, strict limits on the number of parking spaces and requirements that storefronts be adjacent to the street. Molnar said big box retailers generally prefer to build at the rear of the property, leaving ample parking in front.

Flanagan said the decision “looking 20 years back, was good. We have locally-owned businesses and shopping locally is something Ashland residents pride themselves on being able to do.”

In fact, Molnar said there is occasional debate about whether even 45,000 square feet is too big. A pair of recent building proposals approaching that size were turned down by the city council, he said.

The town, known for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, relies heavily on tourism, and Flanagan thinks the multitude of small businesses is a big reason why – “as local as it can be when it makes sense.”

“I think where it does bubble up is the authenticity of the experience we market and we sell, in terms of attracting visitors to town,” Flanagan said.

“The gain is the quality of life that continues to attract folks to want to bring their businesses and their families to Ashland,” Flanagan said. “… I think that quality of life continues to draw and supercedes the minuses for Ashland.”

Hood River, Oregon
A blueprint for beating the big box?

If the Keizer City Council approves the big box site plan in Area C, it’s all but certain opponents will appeal the decision to the state’s Land Use Board of Appeals.

And if they do, Hood River could prove an instructive experience.

The City of Hood River, with a population of less than 7,000, has a 72,000 square foot Walmart in town. The retailer sought to build a larger store outside city limits, but within the city’s urban growth boundary. A group called Citizens for Responsible Growth formed to fight it.

According to Cindy Walbridge, planning director for the City of Hood River, the city council passed an ordinance banning commercial buildings larger than 50,000 square feet within the urban growth boundary. However, the application was already submitted, and commissioners had to consider the application under the existing rules.

Walbridge said the city opposed the project, in part because of compatibility issues. Kevin Hohnbaum and Jane Mulholland of Keep Keizer Livable started taking this angle when they testified at the February Planning Commission meeting.

She said the pre-existing grocery stores in town topped out about 40,000 square feet, and there were fears that a Walmart Supercenter would be a “super-stealth bomber coming into Hood River” and there was a desire to keep buildings “reasonably consistent.”

She also cited a visioning process the city took on, and “what they want to maintain is the small-town character of Hood River,” Walbridge said. “That’s what we heard during the visioning process.”

Hood River County rejected Walmart’s application based on compatibility standards within the city’s code. Flood plain concerns also played a large role, county planning officials told us.

Walmart appealed to LUBA and lost. The company appealed LUBA’s decision to the Oregon Court of Appeals, which upheld the commission’s decision.

Ravalli County, Montana
Caps stores at 60,000 square feet. Overturned by voters in 2006.

Rockville, Maryland
Stores larger than 65,000 square feet banned, design requirements for stores larger than 25,000 square feet.

Madison, Wisconsin
Restricts retail buildings to a footprint of 100,000 square feet.

Damariscotta, Maine
Bars stores more than 35,000 square feet.

Santa Fe, N.M.
Bans stores larger than 150,000 square feet, design standards for stores larger than 30,000 square feet.

Skaneateles, NY
Bans stores larger than 45,000 square feet and limits shopping center sites to 15 acres or less.

Talbot County, Md.
Banned stores larger than 65,000 square feet outside incorporated cities and towns. Voters upheld size cap in 2004.

Taos, New Mexico
Banned stores larger than 80,000 square feet, requires special permit to build more than 30,000 square feet.

Tuolumme, Calif.
Banned retail stores larger than 60,000 square feet.