The definition of a compromise is an agreement that makes neither side happy. That pretty much describes the new zoning ordinance regulating big box stores as adopted by the City Council on a 5-2 vote. The new ordinance was hailed by the Arizona Daily Star as “a victory for a growing neighborhood coalition” and “not a great victory” by the neighbors themselves. The Tucson Citizen ran two stories with headlines like “NIMBY’s block new ‘big boxes’ and “Noisy Elitists Called Winners.” The new ordinance, which takes effect October 27th, requires developers of stores over 100,000 s.f. to file plans with the city addressing standards for such commonplace zoning issues as noise, traffic, lights and hours of operation. The new law also requires a public hearing before a zoning examiner, with the final decision resting with the Mayor and City Council. The Tucson ordinance also imitates a vetoed California bill by limiting non-taxable grocery items to no more than 10% of a superstore’s floor space. The ordinance self-destructs in one year. Jerry Anderson, one of the City Councilors who wanted tougher standards, was unable to convince his fellow members to require a study of the economic impacts of big boxes on public revenues — a provision found in a number of other state and localities, such as California and New Yorks’ environmental quality review laws. Wal-Mart’s attorney said the new ordinance will kill his client’s efforts to build a supercenter in Tucson. But the new ordinance may have no effect on the immediate target of neighborhood hostility, a planned 134,000 s.f. Home Depot in the El Con mall. Since August 2nd, when the City Council voted to ask staff to prepare a cap on the size of retail stores, the City Council has moved further and further downstream from a strong ordinance. Despite neighborhood opposition, Home Depot is purusing at full speed its plans to obtain a building permit before the new ordinance goes into effect. In essence, Home Depot is playing “Beat The Clock” against the city. The mall owners already have one lawsuit against the city, and the city has countercharged that the developers falsified papers that were submitted to the court. It’s safe to say that no one is really happy with the compromise in Tucson.
A group calling itself “The Retail Coalition”, which says it represents stores like Wal-Mart, Kmart, and Home Depot, complained that the City Council “obviously reacted to the small vocal minority in the community.” Home Depot made an organized effort to turn out its employees at the Planning Commission and Council meetings. Although a growing number of communities are placing caps on stores (see Westlake, OH story above), and requiring economic impact statements, the Council did not have the 4 votes needed to pass an ordinance that would have provided Tucson homeownes with stronger protections. Most of the measures in the new ordinance are ones that developers will be able to “mitigate” during the review process. Jean-Paul Bierny, one of the leaders of the citizens’ group, said the ordinance was “not perfect, but it’s a victory. It heads in the right direction, and it creates a public process for both sides.” For further information, contact [email protected]