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Tacoma council considers new rules for big-box stores like Walmart

Post by Kathleen Cooper / The News Tribune on Jan. 31, 2012 at 3:32 pm with No Comments »
January 31, 2012 3:33 pm

Big-box stores and other large retail development would face a new set of hurdles before being allowed to build in Tacoma, under proposed rules presented Tuesday to the City Council.

Tacoma should create a new, “conditional use permit” requirement for development larger than 45,000-square-feet, about the size of Tacoma’s Best Buy store, according to recommendations from the city’s Planning Commission. In addition, such developments also would be required to have more review of parking, site layout, traffic and plans for building re-use should it become vacant.

Finally developers of such buildings could be required to have community meetings about their plans before submitting any permit applications.

“Large-scale retail projects are a big deal. These are big projects. They set the pattern and help determine what the character is in that section of the city,” said city urban planner Brian Boudet, who presented the planning commission’s recommendations to the council during a study session Tuesday. “If you don’t get those right, it makes it very difficult to get the district right.”

Business leaders aren’t thrilled with the recommendations, and have expressed frustration since the moratorium began. On its blog Tuesday, the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber wrote:

“While the Chamber appreciates the City’s desire to engage the community on development issues, the new process created seems to be specifically designed to stymie potential projects regardless of their consistency with the underlying regulations. The process creates more hoops for retail developments to jump through than virtually any other type of development in Tacoma.

“As long as Tacoma continues to target certain business or business sectors with additional taxes, regulations, or moratoriums, the City will have a hard time convincing the community that it is truly “open for business’,” the statement reads.

The commission’s recommendations are the result of an emergency moratorium put in place last August as the council attempted to stop development of what they feared was a Walmart planned for South 23rd Street and Union Avenue.

Walmart confirmed its plans and submitted for permits before the moratorium took effect. In November the council voted 6-3 to move the Walmart project ahead, saying their hands were tied.

On Tuesday, Mayor Marilyn Strickland underlined that the proposed changes to large-scale retail rules wouldn’t affect the planned Walmart.

“That’s correct,” Boudet said. “This applies to the next one.”

Large-scale retail development already is restricted to certain areas of the city. The proposed rules are a response to public feedback and council direction that “these projects could be permitted without any significant public review or public notice,” Boudet said.

The only other development required to hold a community meeting before submitting for building permits is emergency and transitional housing, Boudet said.

The commission has presented tools to allow the city to reject a development outright.

“A conditional use permit isn’t just about how to condition a thing,” Boudet said, “it absolutely gives us the authority to say no, we don’t want this project.”

The council is scheduled to have a public hearing tonight on the proposals, and consider a first reading of an ordinance Feb. 7. A final vote could happen by Feb. 14.

Read more about the proposal in the Sunday News Tribune business section.


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