Discussion on big box moratorium extended

Big box stores continue to be a hot-button issue for Tacoma City Council.

Tacoma Planning Commission has asked for an additional six months to study a current moratorium on new stores in this category.

It has made two other recommendations. One would change the ban from covering the entire city to Tacoma’s eight urban/commercial mixed-use zones. These areas are around Tacoma Mall, Westgate, Tacoma Community College, lower Portland Avenue, East 72nd Street and Portland, South 34th Street and Pacific Avenue, South 72nd and Pacific and Allenmore Hospital.

In August word leaked that a developer wished to build a Walmart on the Tacoma Elks property at the intersection of South 23rd Street and Union Avenue, near Allenmore. The council responded by enacting a six-month moratorium on new retail stores larger than 65,000 square feet.

The other recommendation would allow some vacant big box stores to be reopened and to have minor renovations to accommodate a new chain moving in.

The scaled-back ban would not cover a site just north of the city limits that is being considered for a Lowe’s home improvement store. City staff has received an inquiry about building a store in the home improvement chain at the intersection of South 92nd Street and Pacific Avenue. A church currently is on this site. Earlier this month a Lowe’s on Hosmer Street was closed, as the chain shuttered some low-performing stores.

A total of 23 people testified on the topic at a public hearing during the Oct. 25 city council meeting. Most were in favor of extending the moratorium to 12 months, and many urged the council to keep the ban citywide.

Justin Leighton, secretary of Central Neighborhood Council, was one who endorsed both of these views. “This is actually protecting small businesses,” he remarked.

Patricia Menzies said such stores have a large carbon footprint because they bring in products made far away. “We need to think outside of the big box and inside the circle of community.”

Jake Carton, an organizer for Jobs with Justice, requested that the Planning Commission consider a permanent ban on stores that exceed a certain amount of square feet anywhere in the city. “We do not want just a time out,” he said. “We want a new vision for the city.”

Carton spoke in favor of having the moratorium cover the entire city. “We are asking for equal treatment for everyone in this city.”

Denise Jagielo, secretary/treasurer of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 367, said a year is needed “for the Planning Commission to do its job and not be rushed.”

Ross Wildman, director of Masonry Institute of Washington, told the council that construction workers are desperately in need of work in this tough economy. Wildman said big box stores utilize much masonry in their design, thus providing work for those he represents.

Tacoma/Pierce County Chamber of Commerce has taken a public stance in opposition to the moratorium. David Schroedel, metropolitan development director for the chamber, said his organization feels it is unnecessary. He asked the council to keep it at the current six months. He said the moratorium was too broad in covering the entire city and said the 65,000-square-feet limit should be raised to 100,000 square feet.

There is still uncertainty as to how the moratorium applies to the proposed Walmart, since the developer had submitted a permit prior to it taking effect. Councilmember Joe Lonergan made a motion to amend the moratorium to permit boundary line adjustments. The Walmart application was put on hold when staff determined the proposed store was too big for the parcel and would need such an adjustment.

The council voted 5-4 to table discussion of Lonergan’s amendment. The council will bring the matter back for discussion at its Nov. 1 meeting. Other amendments to the Planning Commission’s recommendations could be introduced at that time.


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