Planning commission tackles 'big box' stores

Ordinance would limit size of retail buildings

Members of the Sandy Planning Commission believe that limiting the size of commercial buildings in the city is a good idea, but they disagree with a proposed ordinance aimed at keeping large retailers out of town.

At its regular meeting Monday, June 26, the land-use body indicated that capping building sizes at 60,000 square feet - as the ordinance would require - might be too restrictive, and that the city needs to address building design issues for its larger retail buildings.

The commission forwarded its opinions and the ordinance to the city council, which will tackle the issue in August or September, City Manager Scott Lazenby said.

'We see all kinds of issues popping up,' noted Planning Commission Chair Jerry Crosby. 'The concept makes sense - we support limits - but not these numbers.'

Under the ordinance, businesses would not be allowed to construct retail outlets that have a footprint larger than 60,000 square feet. The aim of the new rule is to limit large-scale retail (also known as 'big box') development in Sandy.

Stores such as Wal-Mart, Target, Costco and Home Depot would be prohibited from coming to Sandy unless they had an extremely scaled-down building plan, they spread out operations in multiple buildings or on two stories, or a future planning commission and/or city council grants a variance.

Had the ordinance passed earlier in the decade, Sandy's Fred Meyer - a 135,000-square-foot store - would not have been built.

Landowners Tom Seipert, Eric Lundeen and Bob Skipper attended the meeting to express their disapproval of the ordinance. The trio owns the biggest block of undeveloped commercial zone land on the north side of Highway 26 at 362nd Avenue.

Summing up the landowners' feelings, Seipert said, 'I want to see the property in (our) area developed with what's the best possible for the city and the community. You already have the controls to control how growth is going to happen. This isn't the time to limit anything.'

The planning commission's recommendation will serve as a guide to the city council, Lazenby said. 'On design things, (the council) looks to the advice of the planning commission,' Lazenby said. 'The council will take their advice seriously, but ultimately it's their decision.'

'We don't want to have a Wal-Mart in town,' Mayor Linda Malone said. 'I don't think we need huge-scale stuff.'

She said developers need to keep projects to a small scale, and get creative with better design and space arrangement.

'I think it would send the message out there that we don't need 150,000, 175,000-square-foot buildings,' Malone said. 'That's an inefficient use of space and not the kind of scale we want to see in Sandy.'

The city's current development code already red-flags retail footprints larger than 60,000 square feet. Such projects are a conditional use and must receive approval from the planning commission.

'We do have certain safeguards in place now,' Malone said, 'but there are people in the community and on the council who don't think that gives us enough of a safeguard against something we may not want.'

The council made limiting 'big box' development one of its top priorities at a council retreat earlier this year. This ordinance, Malone says, is 'sort of an insurance policy against future policymakers who might not agree with us on this. They'd really have to make an effort to reverse this.'

Malone said former planning staffer Kevin Liburdy brought it to her attention that Ireland passed a nationwide law limiting retail footprints to 60,000 square feet. 'He argued that if the whole country of Ireland can do it, the little city of Sandy can do it.'