Monday, July 29, 2013

Saying No to Walmart

After months of speculation, Walmart officials have decided to move forward with the construction of a 90,000 square foot Walmart Supercenter in the northwest corner of Coit Rd and Arapaho Rd. The location is in Dallas just across the street from Richardson. Because of how the property was zoned, Walmart did not need to seek any approval from the City of Dallas to build there. A neighborhood grassroots opposition movement was unable to convince Walmart not to build there.

The City of Richardson was a spectator to this drama, but didn't waste any time to take action to make sure history doesn't repeat itself in Richardson. On the Richardson City Council agenda for its meeting July 22, 2013 was the following item. Call it the "Say No to Walmart Amendment."
PUBLIC HEARING, ZONING FILE 13 - 12 AND CONSIDER ADOPTION OF ORDINANCE NO. 4013, AMENDING THE COMPREHENSIVE ZONING ORDINANCE OF THE CITY OF RICHARDSON, AS HERETOFORE AMENDED, BY AMENDING THE COMPREHENSIVE ZONING ORDINANCE (APPENDIX A), ARTICLE I, SECTION 2, DEFINITIONS, BY ADDING THE DEFINITION OF LARGE SCALE RETAIL STORE AND BY AMENDING ARTICLE XXII - A, SECTION 2, SPECIAL PERMITS, TO ALLOW LARGE SCALE RETAIL STORES UPON APPROVAL OF A SPECIAL PERMIT IN NON-RESIDENTIAL ZONING DISTRICTS.
The amendment to the zoning ordinances passed 7-0.

After the jump, my thoughts.



Even though the name Walmart was never mentioned in the deliberations (what deliberations, you may ask), this is clearly an anti-Walmart move. There are eight retailers already in Richardson who did not have to seek a special permit based on size. Only when Walmart moved in next door in Dallas did the City of Richardson decide to add this requirement to get a special permit to its zoning ordinances. The existing eight properties are:

Tom Thumb at Coit/Campbell: 73,136 sq ft
Kroger at Belt Line/Coit: 73,519
Burlington Coat Factory at Belt Line/Plano: 74,068
Tom Thumb at Renner/Custer Pkwy: 76,830
Home Depot at Coit/Lake Park: 131,914
Sears at Belt Line/Plano: 134,189
Lowes at Belt Line/Plano: 171,024
Target at Spring Valley Rd/Plano: 175,680

I'm no fan of Walmart because they don't treat their employees well. Others dislike Walmart because of their reputation for catering to downscale consumers. It's probably no accident that Target, Lowe's and Home Depot did not provoke this kind of response by the city when they moved into Richardson, but Walmart did.

Even though I'm no fan of Walmart, there's a contradiction in the City of Richardson's recent actions. Say what you will, Walmart is popular and attracts shoppers. Aren't shoppers what the city wants in order to revitalize Richardson's empty shopping centers? Kind of like how the city welcomes a monstrous new State Farm office complex because of the thousands of new employees it will bring? But Walmart not only doesn't get the same welcome, it gets a big barrier erected in its face.

It concerns me that the City of Richardson is putting up legal barriers to private businesses in an arbitrary and non-transparent way. Businesses will now need a "special permit" to build big stores in Richardson. What are the requirements to obtain that "special permit?" Dunno. It's not spelled out. It's up to the whims of the council members. They'll know it when they see it. Chances are it won't come with Walmart on the sign. Government by whim is a great way to keep out Walmart. It's also a great way to open the door to abuse somewhere down the line.

I'll be glad if Walmart is stopped, but I'd rather it happen by shoppers spending their dollars elsewhere, not by vague government regulation interpreted in a way that discriminates against a single business.

2 comments:

Andrew said...

I fully support this change to the comprehensive zoning ordinance. In fact, the Council and planning staff should be commended for tackling this without messing around.

In fact, it matches one of the two solutions that I proposed informally in conversations around town.

Big boxes have their own risks and can produce all kinds of potential issues. As the nature of retail changes with online retail becoming more dominant and inner-ring demographics changing such that retail habits change, big boxes may not be in the best interest of residents in many locations.

Their tax benefits are often over stated. Another issue is what happens to these big box properties when they are disused and vacant. If a retailer can build a big box by right, then they may do so to eliminate another nearby big box with the result being trading a new one for a giant empty hulk. Many issues of retail can get amplified by the scale of big boxes and in a city that will not gain new land, that city needs to worry about land use that creates out-of-scale problems.

Saying it is up to the whim of council members isn't fair. Special permit process will be very similar in cities across Texas so this process isn't exclusive to Richardson. Special permit is a process which allows a public hearing at both the CPC level and the council level.

I think you have it backwards actually. A special permit requirement is what allows a use rather than disallowing it. Without it a city's (that is to say any city) option might be to disallow the use entirely in certain zoning districts and force the applicant into a PD. There are likely other options but they might be difficult to manage as well.

This is a welcome change.
- A. Laska

Mark Steger said...

Unfair Park's Eric Nicholson covers the story, too (and quotes me - thanks for the link).