Follow the Bouncing Big Box

Amended version of Big Box Ordinance bounces back down from council to the Planning Commission, hangs in review limbo

An amended version of the Big Box Ordinance has bounced back down from council to the Planning Commission; with the commission's Jan. 16 meeting canceled due to weather, the ordinance still awaits a new review.

The significant amendment, forwarded by Council Member Lee Leffingwell, was a developer-friendly provision to allow a single, combined public hearing for 1) the big-box retail conditional-use permit and 2) rezoning. Advocates at Liveable City (the nonprofit that originally forwarded the ordinance) were wary of the change. Their concern: A big-box conditional-use permit could be approved with rezoning many years before a specific superstore gets built. They want language assuring a CUP neighborhood hearing and expanded notification directly before the development of a big-box project. At Northcross Mall, for example, the zoning permitting the more than 200,000-square-foot Wal-Mart store now planned for the property was approved decades ago.

A second concern is the unaddressed "adjacent structure loophole." The ordinance's expanded public hearing and neighborhood notification requirements apply only to stores of 100,000 square feet and up. A wily retailer easily could prepare a site plan for two adjacent 95,000 structures – Wal-Mart Home and Wal-Mart Grocery, say – to skirt the ordinance. To close the loophole, city staff was considering a language change, tying total limited square footage to a principal retail use and accessories (as in the SOS Ordinance), rather than to a single building. For now, it's wait-and-see on whether a further-amended Big Box Ordinance will get kicked back up to council – again.

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Big Box Ordinance, Lee Leffingwell, retail conditional use permit, Liveable City, Northcross Mall, Wal-Mart

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