Monday, February 25, 2008

Carp moves toward limiting store size


Carpinteria city leaders took another step toward limiting the size of businesses in their town on Monday evening as they discussed putting together a “big box” ordinance.
Ultimately the City Council, short an absent Mayor Michael Ledbetter, voted 3-1 in favor of putting together such an ordinance that would cap business developments at 30,000 square feet and trigger an extensive review process for those larger than 20,000 square feet.

A recent development application by Vons proposing a move from its Linden Avenue location to take over the Albertsons and Rite-Aid at the Casitas Plaza Shopping Center — thusly increasing its footprint to 40,000 square feet and potentially leaving Carpinteria with only one grocery store — sparked the discussion.
However, city leaders stressed that they aren’t focusing singularly on that issue.
“It’s not about Albertsons, its not about Vons,” Councilmember Brad Stein said. “It’s about the big box-type stores.”
Stein joined Councilmember Al Clark and Vice Mayor Gregg Carty in casting votes in favor of drafting an ordinance with a 30,000 square foot cap. Councilmember Joe Armendariz voted against the motion.
“I’m not smart enough to know what the right size is,” Armendariz said.
He suggested having a discussion with developers, property owners and staff to determine an appropriate cap that won’t have an adverse effect on current businesses such as Vons or the city’s ability to attract other grocery stores.
“I don’t know what [a 30,000 square foot cap] means to their ability to continue to serve the good people of Carpinteria,” he said.
Although the council remained divided on where to set that upper limit — which may return as a point of contention during further discussion of the ordinance — they all seemed to be in favor of requiring a conditional use permit (CUP) process for any business larger than 20,000 square feet.
City manager Dave Durflinger said a CUP offers the city more discretion in determining if a business is right for a certain location than a development plan alone.
“First we have to make findings that this use at this location is appropriate,” he said.
The city would be able to determine, on a case-by-case basis, whether to approve, deny or approve with conditions any store that proposes exceeding that 20,000 square foot threshold. Such a project would have to go through Planning Commission review to examine its use in relation to the size and shape of the location, as well as its impact on traffic and the general welfare of the neighborhood.
The city could turn down the application if it found that economic impacts are significant and immitigable, or impose conditions that would make it compatible with the neighborhood.
“I like the idea of empowering the city to have as much ability to affect the outcome as possible,” Armendariz said. “…What I am very concerned about is anything that might put the city in a litigation posture.”
Legal challenges to “big box” ordinances typically fall into several categories, city staff said. Lawsuits have challenged such ordinances on the grounds that a thorough environmental review was not conducted prior to their adoption. As a result, staff recommends that the city undergo an environmental review process before adopting any ordinance regulating store size.
Other lawsuits have claimed that “big box” ordinances are discriminatory toward certain stores. City staff said court rulings determined other cities have a right to control and organize development within their boundaries in order to serve the general welfare — logic that could be applied to Carpinteria.
City staff also urged the council to be clear and understandable in definitions and terms used in any ordinance in order to avoid lawsuits over vagueness or ambiguity.
Despite issues over the specifics of a “big box” ordinance, the council appeared wholly determined to put together legislation to maintain Carpinteria’s small-town feel by keeping large superstores out.
“I don’t think that ‘big’ fits in with a small town,” Clark said.

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