Council to talk big box

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City Council President Paul Strong hopes the council will reach a consensus tonight on what a big-box ordinance should entail.

With just more than 60 days left in the city's 90-day moratorium on big-box retail stores, the City Council and City Planning Commission will talk tonight about what regulations, if any, should be used to manage large, national chain stores.

"The outcome (should be) to give staff enough direction so they have an ordinance to bring back to us," Strong said.

At the March 15 council meeting, the council passed an emergency ordinance for the 90-day moratorium with the intent of determining whether a permanent ordinance is needed and hashing out those details at tonight's meeting.

The emergency ordinance put on hold for 90 days any development application for retail commercial space of more than 12,000 square feet for a single owner or tenant.

Since then, the planning staff has compiled a list of provisions in the Community Development Code that could be used to mitigate the impacts of big-box retail. In a memo to the council, planning staff noted that big box retail could be regulated through a Planned Unit Development process, where the developer would have to prove the store was beneficial for the public good. Other regulations could limit the size of big-box stores or make them conditional uses with a discretionary review process in different zones.

The Community Development Code already has building and architectural design standards, and site planning and amenities standards for commercial uses.

The four groups that have come together to request more regulation on big-box retail -- the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley, Mountain Business Association, the Downtown Business Association and the Steamboat Springs Peace and Justice Center -- also will be given time to make presentations tonight.

Community Alliance President Diane Brower said the groups would like to see an ordinance that requires economic and community impact assessments for stores more than a certain size. The regulations in the community code do not go far enough in regulating big-box retail, Brower said.

"Honestly we would like to see a cap," Brower said. "We are a small town, and anything above a certain size is going to have a tremendous impact."

Brower suggests requiring stores between 12,000 and 20,000 square feet to conduct an impact assessment and requiring a less stringent assessment for stores between 8,000 and 12,000 square feet.

For stores larger than 20,000 square feet, Brower said, the groups would like to see an impact assessment and some sort of mitigation to compensate the negative impacts associated with big box retail.

The City Planning Commission has been asked to join tonight's discussion because the typical process for a planning related ordinance would be to have it go through the Planning Commission first.

Since the city is under a 90-day time frame to pass an ordinance, the Planning Commission and council will discuss it together, Strong said. Hopes are for the Planning Commission to see an actual ordinance by early May.

Strong brought the emergency ordinance before the council in March after working with the community alliance and the business associations. The council passed the ordinance in a 5-2 vote after a 2 1/2 hour discussion that drew more than 70 people into Centennial Hall.

Although some questioned whether 90 days would be enough time to develop an ordinance, Strong has said the city has been grappling with the issue for more the two years.

The council held a forum on too much commercial growth a year ago, and the annual economic summit focused on big box retail.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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