Task force to craft big-box store regs

Voices from both sides of debate represented

By Omie Drawhorn Daily News staff writer
Published: 05-11-2006

Planning and Zoning Commission member Sue Scott said she is happy to see stakeholders on either side of large scale retail development coming together.

"It wasn't 700 people saying 'no, no, no'," she said. "People were looking toward a workable solution," she said of Wednesday night's meeting. Seven people out of 14 in attendance offered their two cents on potential amendments to a large scale retail development law passed Feb. 7 by the Moscow City Council. The law, which requires big-box stores go through a conditional use permit process before locating in Moscow, was passed quickly before a 182-day emergency ordinance lapsed Feb. 18.

People from the community and on the commission debated dark store provisions, caps on size, and constraints on large retailers developing close to one another.

Afterwards, representatives of the Moscow Chamber of Commerce and No Super Wal-Mart, an organization of people opposed to allowing a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Moscow, agreed the direction set in the meeting is one people on both sides of the fence can support, said Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Jerry Schutz.

Nils Peterson and Mark Solomon of No Super Wal-Mart and Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Paul Kimmell were among those asked to serve on a task force that would draft a dark store provision that would dictate the responsibilities of a store that vacated a building. Planning and Zoning member Art Bettge will lead the task force.

Kimmell said the chamber is willing to take a sample business through a dry run of the current conditional use permit process and present the results to the commission. They will be reviewed at the commission's first meeting in August.

Moscow resident Kit Craine said some large stores close and pay rent on the space while it's empty. "If a store closes, they have to refill it. I don't care if they are paying rent," she said. "We will have a huge quantity of retail space lying vacant and people wanting to build elsewhere."

Solomon recommended setting a cap at development for 100,000 square feet, which is just slightly larger than existing retail in Moscow, with the existing Wal-Mart at 95,000 square feet.

No one had any clear answers about how to deal with the expansion of existing retail to sizes possibly larger than 100,000 square feet.

"We might be clipping the wings of existing business" by adding a cap, Bettge said.

Bob Greene, owner of BookPeople, said size isn't always a positive thing for a business. "Many studies show that size doesn't limit profit," he said. "There can be efficiencies of scale as well as inefficiencies of scale."

Bill Parks, owner of Northwest River Supply, said a large general purpose retail store could suck the life out of businesses not directly in competition. "A person wakes up with a certain number of dollars every morning, but if they buy a raft at Northwest River Supply, they won't have that money to spend elsewhere, like the bike shop in town."

Kimmell spoke on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce. "I don't think we're in a crisis," he said. "That has come and gone."

He said respondents of a recent Chamber of Commerce survey about large scale retail development showed many businesses favor a level playing field.

Bettge was concerned about development occurring outside of the city but still in the county, where the effects would be felt by Moscow, yet the city would have no control over the way development occurred.

"How many requirements do we want to put on this before we shoot ourselves in the foot?" he said.

But Scott said Moscow's local business is what makes it unique.

"People drive here from Spokane, for smaller, unique types of stores," she said.

The Moscow law now requires retail stores larger than 40,000 square feet of gross floor area to apply for a conditional use permit. Retail stores more than 65,000 square feet have to meet stricter conditions for a conditional use permit as well as separate standards spelled out in city's newly revised design manual for developers.


* What happened

The Moscow Planning and Zoning Commission listened to public input on amendments to big box regulations and decided to form a task force to create a dark store provision that kicks in when stores vacate a building.

* What it means

A cap on large retail stores could be imposed, as well as a dark store provision and limits on the proximity of big box stores to each other.

* What's next

The commission will revisit big box regulations at its first August meeting. Proposed amendments will be reviewed and approved or denied by the Moscow City Council.

* Why you should care: The recommendations will determine the future of big box stores in Moscow.
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