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Council puts lid on big box ban

City waits for revised commercial design standards

The Sandy City Council isn't going to ban large-scale retail developments from coming to town - at least for now.

At its Monday, Dec. 4, meeting, the council unanimously agreed it doesn't necessarily need the proposed 'big box' ordinance to maintain a small-town atmosphere in Sandy.

The ordinance would have limited a building's surface area to 60,000 square feet - effectively keeping Costco, Target, Wal-Mart and other 'superstores' out of town.

'There are still no 'big box' proposals waiting in the wings,' City Manager Scott Lazenby told the council. 'And if we did, it's a conditional use and you could deny it. We feel we are safe with our existing code until new (design) standards are adopted. There's not a tremendous urgency.'

The council wanted to address the ordinance Dec. 4 to give outgoing councilors Steve Nerz and Gabe Achterman the opportunity to weigh in on the 'big box' proposal before they leave office in January.

Earlier in the year, council members appeared to be split on whether a retail building limitation was in the city's best interest, but they decided to table the measure until they had more information on commercial zone design guidelines.

Since the council first heard the 'big box' ordinance in August, the city has teamed with consultants at the Oregon Department of Land Conservation to develop commercial zone design changes. Part of that theme would include standards for large retail establishments, making them look like several smaller stores instead of one big box - in the same vein as the Sandy Fred Meyer.

Lazenby said the planning department has developed '95 percent' of the commercial zone design elements, but the project won't be completed until the state consultants help draft the language needed to change the city development code.

The three areas the design guidelines would address would be big box development, general commercial buildings throughout the city and buildings in the downtown core.

'The schedule they set up is pretty aggressive,' said Tracy Brown, city planning director. Brown said the city and the state consultants are planning an open house/workshop in early January to get input from the community on the city's potential new design standards.

'It will be real healthy to do a community forum,' Lazenby said. 'I think it would be a fun discussion to get people involved with that.'

Brown said the final code amendments should be ready for the city council by the end of May.

'They're going to be aggressively working on this,' Brown said. 'Hopefully we'll be happy and proud of what we come up with.'

What if a big box application surfaces before design standards are in place?

'Worst-case (scenario), we can deny it,' said Councilor Bill Leslie.

'Or condition the heck out of it,' Mayor Linda Malone said.

Landowner Bob Skipper, who with Eric Lundeen and Tom Seipert owns the largest expanse of undeveloped commercial zone land in town, watched Monday night's proceedings with great interest.

Skipper's sister, Lila Leathers, recently filed Sandy's first Measure 37 claim, and he was considering the same if the 'big box' ordinance passed. Skipper says he has no specific plans for his property at this time, but he wants to make sure he could develop the land as he sees fit when the time comes.

The property owners disagreed with a ban on 'big box' retailers but have said in the past that they support stricter design guidelines.


WHY DOES THIS MATTER?

The City Council had considered keeping all 'big box' stores from setting up shop in Sandy, but Monday's vote reflects a belief that good design guidelines could make even a Wal-Mart fit the 'small town' character of Sandy. The local Fred Meyer - a 'big box' by city standards - is the poster child for what the city would want to see in future large-scale retail stores.