Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Carpinteria moves to restrict large retailers


Large businesses hoping to find a home in Carpinteria may soon face an extensive review process before getting the green light, judging from opinions expressed by city leaders at Tuesday evening’s Carpinteria City Council meeting.
All five members of the council, some more strongly than others, spoke in favor of requiring a “conditional use permit,” or CUP, for retail projects exceeding 20,000 square feet.
An approval process involving a CUP would give city leaders the discretion to deny a project if they determine it violates specific guidelines largely related to maintaining the small-town character of Carpinteria.

A recent application by Vons proposing a move from its Linden Avenue location to consolidate the Albertsons and Rite-Aid located at the Casitas Plaza Shopping Center, thus creating a store spanning 40,000 square feet, sparked the discussion.
Much of the back-and-forth between members of the council on Tuesday evening involved whether or not to include a cap of 30,000 square feet for retail projects as an added layer of protection beyond the CUP process.
Councilmember Al Clark, stressing the importance of maintaining a small-town feel, noted that the average size of retail stores on the South Coast is 26,000 square feet, compared to larger figures in Ventura and its neighboring communities.
“We don’t want to be like Ventura,” he said. “…The cap will best maintain community character, so I will maintain my support for that.”
Councilmember Gregg Carty also expressed support for measures that will ensure any new businesses are in keeping with the size and character of Carpinteria.
Others, such as Mayor Michael Ledbetter and Councilmember Joe Armendariz, said the CUP process offers a strong layer of protection that will give the city enough discretion without causing unintended consequences.
“I do not believe 40,000 — and by extension, 30,000 — square feet of retail sales space in this community and that location will herald the end of Western civilization,” Armendariz said. “…I don’t see the risk of a big-box store coming into Carpinteria anytime soon.”
Armendariz characterized placing an inflexible cap on retail space as searching for a solution without a problem and implored his colleagues to think “beyond this typical growth vs. no growth, big vs. small” mentality.
Mayor Ledbetter seemed largely in agreement, calling a 30,000 square foot cap problematic.
“I’m not sure it suits Carpinteria,” he said, noting several businesses in the small coastal town that exceed that figure and aren’t viewed as destructive to Carpinteria’s character.
Ultimately, the council directed city staff to put together an urgency ordinance focused solely on the CUP process. In response to comments by Clark, the ordinance will bring any CUP applications involving retail stores larger than 20,000 square feet directly to the City Council, rather than requiring an appeal from a Planning Commission decision.
Under the ordinance, any project would be subject to a series of objectives expressed by city leaders that include minimizing traffic, parking and negative economic impacts, ensuring the viability of small businesses, encouraging travel by foot or bicycle, and keeping the project in proportion to the town’s needs and existing development.
Councilmember Brad Stein noted that even though businesses may propose projects larger than 30,000 or 40,000 square feet through the CUP process, the city retains the power to deny those projects based on the aforementioned guidelines.
“We can still hold Albertsons at that 30,000 square feet … through the CUP,” Stein said.
He also sent a message to retailers who might consider submitting an application for a large project, possibly viewing the lack of a square footage cap as encouragement to go bigger.
“It’s not a slam dunk coming in at 40,000 square feet,” he said.
City staff will return with a draft ordinance for further consideration on June 23.

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