Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, November 30, 2006

"Moscow big-box ordinance still without a size cap"

This story appeared in today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
There still is no size cap for so-called big-box stores that plan to build in Moscow.

A subcommittee presented recommendations regarding changes to the Large Retail Establishment Ordinance to the Moscow Planning and Zoning Commission on Wednesday night.

The law, passed in February, requires big-box stores to go through a conditional use permit process before locating in Moscow.

The City Council asked the Planning and Zoning Commission to recommend amendments to the ordinance, including size-cap and dark-store provisions.

The committee made a number of recommendations but couldn’t come to an agreement on the size cap issue.

Committee chairman Wayne Krauss said there was no size cap recommendation because committee members could not reach a consensus on the issue.

“The cap was the toughest issue we talked about; we had so many different opinions,” he said. “It was tough to keep personal biases out of the picture.”

The committee recommended that a large retail establishment would have to expand by at least 30 percent before it would be required to apply for a conditional use permit. Big-box stores between 40,000 and 65,000 square feet would be subject to the design manual — which includes standards for the exterior and interior of buildings — at the discretion of the Board of Adjustment, and any business requiring 140 or fewer parking spaces would not be subject to the parking requirements of the design manual.

The committee also recommended not including “unenclosed sales display areas” in the square footage of a business to lessen the effects on businesses like car dealerships and nurseries.

Committee member Valeri Schillberg recommended limiting the size of a big-box store to a city block.

If the business wanted to be larger, it could build up rather than out.

“In a way it acts as a cap until it becomes economical to go up,” Schillberg said. “I don’t want to discourage growth, but I want to focus on quality of life; by focusing on quality of life you increase property values.”

She said “walkability” is key to quality of life.

“Setting up a block size will set up a precedent for growth and development,” she said.

Committee member Nils Peterson said he liked the city block concept.

“Without having the potentially crippling capping, having some kind of roof area that would allow buildings to be stacked is an option,” he said.

Committee member and County Commissioner Paul Kimmell said he didn’t support a size cap.

“We have enough design standards already in place that we are going to start seeing more style with large retail establishments,” he said. “The notion of limiting this would drive opportunity for more retail in Moscow out of the city.”

Kimmell said the proposed Hawkins Development, which would be built just across the state line, is an example of that.

“They found a location of least resistance; I think that’s what we’re starting to see,” he said. “We are beginning a trend to lose some of that retail base, and that should be a concern to us.”

Kimmell said he has talked with Wal-Mart officials who told him they would never put a two-story structure in Moscow because real estate isn’t at a premium.

Krauss said he is not a fan of huge shopping centers, but Moscow needs to stay competitive.

“Whitman County is doing everything they can to take all the sales dollars that we’ve gotten back from them,” he said. “If we are going to compete against Whitman County we have to compete and we have to do it without hindering the size of stores going in.”

Jim Demeerleer, owner of The Furniture Center and a Greater Moscow Alliance member, said he doesn’t think there should be restrictions on business.

“Anytime you have an ordinance you have control; when you have control you reduce free enterprise,” he said.

Demeerleer said he was the only independent businessperson on the dark store committee.

“You are being influenced by people that have a different view than those in business,” he told the Planning and Zoning Commission on Wednesday night. “Rather than being pessimistic, we should be optimistic.”

Planning and Zoning Commission chairman Jerry Schutz said he hasn’t begged for business owners to give their opinions.

“If we don’t get it we’ve got to listen to the people that come to the table to talk,” he said.

Moscow dentist and businessman Gerald Weitz said Moscow isn’t thinking outside the box.

“With two research universities we could have a thriving economy here but we don’t,” he said. “The town is not fighting back; we are fighting amongst each other about stupid things.”

Steve Busch, president of Greater Moscow Alliance and a former Moscow city councilman, told the commission he is puzzled by the way city government regulates business in Moscow.

“It’s like we are being invaded by big-box stores from all sides and we’ve got to stop them,” he said. “What’s going on that we need to take such drastic action?”

The Planning and Zoning Commission will revisit the recommendations along with the dark store recommendations in January. The dark store committee recommended requiring businesses larger than 64,000 square feet that are going “dark” — out of business — to submit a reuse plan for the facility within 90 days of abandonment. The owner must provide regular updates to the city, and after three years, the City Council can assess fines if it doesn’t think the entity is acting in the best interest of the city.
You know, as tempting as it is to root on the barking moonbats in Moscow with their "walkability" and size caps, which would end up driving ALL new retail to Pullman and Whitman County, I just can't.

Many of the the No Super WalMart crowd in Moscow, like Bill London and Nils Peterson, work at WSU. There is extensive cross-pollination with the PARDners. Anything the anti-growthers accomplish in Moscow only emboldens the anti-growthers here. The Moscow City Council "slam-dunked" Wal-Mart in grand style and the PARDners are green with envy. I think that's a major reason they keep fighting. And don't think Judy Krueger or someone else won't make a run for City Council again. They'll keep pushing and pushing until they get what Moscow has: a social engineering Politburo that passes living wage ordinances, dark store ordinances, etc., etc.

All my best to Steve Busch and the Greater Moscow Alliance. A threat to free enterprise anywhere on the Palouse is a threat to free enterprise everywhere on the Palouse.


April E. Coggins said...

I partially agree. The problem is that less than half of the GMA feels the same way about growth in Pullman. Moscow businesses are outright gleeful when PARD keeps us in check. Too many members of the GMA will jump sides when liberal activists are attacking Pullman growth.

Scotty said...

It is interesting that PARD says we need to work with Moscow and build a diverse community with Moscow in mind. Not having each city with the same stores... That we should not view ourselves as competiting with Moscow. We should not fret our tax dollars are going there. We should be one big happy family.

With that in mind, I am glad to see this quotation:
"Whitman County is doing everything they can to take all the sales dollars that we've gotten back from them," he said. "If we are going to compete against Whitman County we have to compete and we have to do it without hindering the size of stores going in."