Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What limits should be put on grocery stores?

P&Z struggles to define restrictions


By TREVON MILLIARD
Express Staff Writer

Ketchum already requires relatively few on-site parking spaces for grocery stores. And stores can even request special consideration under city code to provide even less, according to Ketchum Community and Economic Development Director Lisa Horowitz.

For that reason, Horowitz advised the Planning and Zoning Commission on Monday to not reduce grocery stores' parking requirement to offset the burden of high land prices in the community core.

"We already have enough tools in the tool chest," she said.

This considered action comes shortly after the P&Z's recommendation on Aug. 23 that the community core—where Atkinsons' Market is located and land for parking lots is limited—be the only place that grocery stores are permitted outright. The City Council will decide Thursday whether to act on this recommendation.

Currently, the city requires grocery stores to provide two on-site parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of retail use, half the norm for retail. And the city already allows stores to propose alternate plans for even less parking or no on-site parking.

"An applicant may propose a project-specific parking solution to address parking demand unmet by on-site parking spaces for approval by the city," the code states.

Commissioners Steve Cook and Deborah Burns said they'd like to keep the rules as they stand, while Commissioner Sam Williams said a sentence should be added clarifying that the P&Z can completely waive on-site parking.

The P&Z decided to not hurriedly draft this clarifying language Monday night but to revisit it on Oct. 11.

What restrictions should be placed?

The P&Z also attempted to draft a definition for "grocery store," seeing that the zoning code doesn't provide one, but had trouble defining and agreeing on the limits, such as not having a separately owned bank or pharmacy.

"Grocery stores, in my mind, sell groceries and sundry items. Definitely no pharmacy," Commissioner Rich Fabiano said, later adding, "And they aren't quote unquote supermarkets."

Burns was of a similar opinion, claiming things like florists and pharmacies are OK only if the owner is the same as the grocery store. She said she doesn't want a retailer within a retailer.

Williams was of a different perspective, telling the other commissioners to "look at reality," which is something Atkinsons' Market President Chip Atkinson also advised.

"I'm really concerned," Atkinson said. "Pharmacies have become a tradition of being in the grocery store."

He said a stiff definition would prohibit his business from growing or catering to customers' demands. For example, Atkinsons' now sells cookbooks.

"These uses are miniscule," Atkinson said, "and still rely on selling groceries."

Jim Laski, attorney for the developer of the proposed Ketchum Market, which would be comprised of a grocery store and separate pharmacy, said he's also "scared" about Fabiano and Burns' desired restrictions.

"Our job is not to regulate business," Williams warned his colleagues.

"You don't want to strangle a good operation from coming in here," Cook said.

The P&Z ended the discussion without a consensus but will return to the topic at a date uncertain. Possible options discussed were merely limiting secondary uses, such as a pharmacy, to a certain percentage of building square footage or limiting the grocery store's entire size to prevent a big box store's offering groceries, clothes and all kinds of things.

Trevon Milliard: tmilliard@mtexpress.com




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