At Tuesday’s Council Meeting, the Turlock City Council was presented a City Staff report as a discussion item only on the issue of the City Council discussing designating Regional Commercial uses in the upcoming General Plan Update and/or that the City Council discuss changes to the policy decisions regarding discount superstores.
City Staff was looking for the City Council to provide direction regarding Councilmember Ted Howze’s previous request and the Development Collaborative Advisory Committee’s (DCAC) recommendation that the City Council discuss designating Regional Commercial uses in the upcoming General Plan Update and/or that the City Council discuss changes to the policy decisions regarding discount superstores.
A “discount superstore” is defined as a discount store that exceeds 100,000 square feet of gross floor area and devotes at least 5 percent of the total sales floor area to the sale of nontaxable merchandise, often in the form of a full-service grocery department.
Councilman Ted Howze previously requested that staff review this item and provide a staff report to Council for discussion regarding the possibility of revising the “Discount Superstore” ordinance.
On June 10, 2010, the Turlock Development Collaborative Advisory Committee (DCAC) unanimously recommended that the City Council consider the following:
1 – Designate at least two (2) areas for Regional Commercial uses in the upcoming General Plan Update; and
2 – Amend the definition of Discount Superstore in the current Zoning Ordinance to allow greater flexibility by increasing the square footage for non-taxable merchandise.
City Staff gave a report to give the Turlock City Council the opportunity to provide further direction to staff as to how they would like to proceed with these recommendations. In staff’s view, the City Council may choose to move forward with both, none, or either one of these recommendations. These recommendations are independent of one another.
On December 16, 2003, the City of Turlock amended it Zoning Ordinance to establish regulations for a new use classification, called a “Discount Superstore.” This definition essentially represents that class of department stores referred to as “big boxes.”
In making its decision, the City Council determined that these types of stores are more regional in nature and are fundamentally inconsistent with the goals, policies and objectives of the Turlock General Plan and the purpose of the various commercial districts of the City. In the courts decision upholding the City’s action in regards to not allowing a Wal-Mart Supercenter, it is clear that the City created a very solid and cohesive argument in making its finding adopting the ordinance.
After reviewing the staff report and ordinance enacting the superstore “ban,” staff advised the development committee that a rescission of the ordinances would be tenuous as the very arguments used by the City to defend itself in this case, could be used to challenge the City in rescinding the ordinance.
As an alternative to rescinding the ordinance, staff proposed that the committee consider making a recommendation to the City Council to utilize a currently unused designation in the current Turlock General Plan, called “Regional Commercial,” to designate one or more locations within the City for big box types of stores. The General Plan Update process would allow staff to evaluate potential locations where such a designation could be placed and plan the appropriate supporting infrastructure and services for implementation.
The Regional Commercial zoning is believed by City Staff to be the most feasible and least costly of the two recommendations as the evaluation of such land use changes is anticipated as apart of the current General Plan Update process. A zoning ordinance amendment would also have to be enacted and could take between 1 and 1 ½ years to complete.
While the development committee generally agreed that the “General Plan” approach was appropriate, they were concerned about the amount of time this option would take and recommended that the Council also investigate an option to change the current definition of a “Discount Superstore” to allow more space in the “floor sales area” to be used for non-taxable (or grocery) items.
The ordinance amendment or definition revision may be problematic for the city since the current ordinance defended against allowing superstores by saying that more than 5 percent of the sales floor area devoted to non-taxable (grocery) items would create blight and would undermine the neighborhood centers concept in the General Plan.
City Staff suggested because of the possible legal ramifications that to identify a higher floor area threshold that can be adequately justified, legal and economic specialists be retained and thus would be costly. If specialists were not retained, City Staff feels the City could be greatly exposed to potential litigation that may cost as much as the original court battle again Wal-Mart.
Councilwoman Mary Jackson questioned the actual cost of the legal and economic specialists suggested to be retained but at this time there are no estimates.
John Miles was the only member of the public to speak on the issue and was against reopening the discussion restricting discount superstores from Turlock. Miles believed due diligence was done in the past when the City of Turlock created the ordinance “banning” superstores and battled Wal-Mart in court to keep out a superstore.
“Former Mayor Curt Andre’s general plan of big box store restrictions was correct for the City in 2004 and it’s correct for today,” said Miles.
Councilman Ted Howze stated that he disagrees with the findings that the regional nature of superstores were inconsistent with the goals and policies of the General Plan because he believes that’s saying the City is exclusive but that both regional and neighborhood commercial zonings can co-exist. Howze believes there is space in this city and there are people in this city that thinks regional commercial is a good fit.
“The finding that says the regional nature of these stores (discount superstores) is a bad fit is actually untrue; I believe it’s the regional nature of these stores makes it a good fit with the General Plan,” said Howze. “The regional nature of these types of stores is vital to attracting sales tax dollars.”
Councilman Howze requested that staff bring something back at the next meeting possible which will be the 4th Tuesday in August.
Councilwoman Jackson warned against rushing what could end up being costly if not handled correctly and wants to be cautious with moving forward with this issue.
A lengthy discussion about how this superstore and/or regional commercial zoning issue should move forward was held and ended up with a direction of bringing it back to Council for consideration of sending it to the Planning Commission to begin the public process on deciding this issue.
Mayor John Lazar supported Council engaging in the discussion of superstores and regional commercial zoning in Turlock.
Vice Mayor Kurt Spycher stated that he’s a free market guy and is in favor of beginning the process of deciding on the issue of superstores and regional zoning in Turlock.