Sprawl-Busters has become aware of a comprensive, 281 page regional retail study produced by the Cuyahoga County, Ohio Planning Commission and the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency. The study found that the region has suffered a small loss in population over the past three decades, but is “over-saturated” with retail, especially in outlying surburbs and rural areas. “Overbuilding has impacts: new retail development competes with established centers for market share, often leading to lower rents, more marginal businesses and increased vacancies in older commercial areas. Increased competition from new retail centers can significantly depreciate property values in existing commercial areas, thereby reducing property tax revenues for schools and communities. In the longer term, tax revenue generated by new retail in outlying areas can be diminished by the costs of additional infrastructure and public safety services, the impact on existing businesses, and environmental mitigation efforts.” The report also states that retail facilities are in a constant state of change, with traditional covered malls declining, and superstores now pre-eminent. “Communities with out-dated retail venues can suffer not only tax losses, but major difficulty in re-using obsolete structures.” The report warns that “adaptive reuse of these stores will become a major challenge when they become vacant. Compounding the situation is the practice of many companies to keep buildings vacant rather than allow the property to pass to a competitor.” The study found that in the seven counties studied, 20% of the workforce was in retail, with 27,000 stores and 135 million square feet of retail selling space. There was 37 s.f. of retail space per person, plus 10 million s.f. of empty stores. The study found the area had more than 6 million s.f. of excess shopping space. The environmental downside of retail saturation included airborne pollutants from cars, stormwater runoff quality and quantity, as well as noise, light pollution, and community aesthetics. For example, shopping trips in the region generated 2.7 million tons of carbon dioxide each year, and 153 thousands tons of carbon monoxide. Runoff from paved surfaces is 16 times greater than from vacant, grassy land. “Superstores the size of 3 or 4 footballs fields are now becoming commonplace throughout the region, threatening the vitality of existing stores.” The report notes that although many local zoning codes have standards for lot size, parking, yards, etc, “few have maximum size standards which could help insure a connectivity between uses and a more pedestrian friendly environment”.On the economic side, the study makes it clear that big retail comes with big costs. “Considerable public subsidies in the form of transportation enhancements, infrastructure improvements and city services will likely be required.Community tax revenue that is generated by new retail development is often offset by the local government costs of providing additional infrastructure and public safety services, the softening of revenue from existing businesses, and the costs of environmental mitigation.” Finally, the report estimates that retail uses on average demanded higher numbers of police and fire personnel than light industrial uses or residential uses, and that retail facilities were a net money loser for municipalities.
Here’s the study’s kicker: “Communities planning to use retail development as the focus of an economic development strategy would be better served by trying to sustain and/or attract industrial and office-based business. Balancing residential development with a mix of other uses is prudent from both an economic and sustainability viewpoint…Efforts may be better directed towards improving conditions for existing retail establishments, thus contributing to the well-being of the businesses and the community.” The study suggests that light industrial and office development creates stronger local revenues than retail development, with office uses being the highest net gain. To view the NOACA report, go to: www.noaca.org/What_S_New/News_Releases/Regional_Retail_Study/regional_retail_study.html, or contact [email protected]