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Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Council Report: Briefing on small-box discount stores and community impact

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Convenience and price are tempting subjects to shoppers, particularly those on a budget. But are too many small box discount stores getting in the way of Fort Worth’s striving for healthier lifestyles for all of its citizens?

At Tuesday’s Fort Worth City Council work session, the city’s Director of Planning and Development, Randle Harwood, delivered a briefing on the status of apparent proliferation of small box discount stores in Fort Worth and their effect on the city.

“There has been a number of these stores located in largely poor neighborhoods. It is a highly competitive business environment, so one store is likely to attract one or more competitors,” Harwood said. “There is concern in the community that a large number of small discount retailers may be impacting the potential for new groceries stores as we grow and change.”

Major concerns include:

*High concentrations reduce viability for traditional grocery stores.

*Limit Blue Zones goals of providing healthier food options.

*Limit access to fresh and affordable meat and produce.

Several council members, including Mayor Betsy Price, used the same word in describing the stores.

“It feels predatory,” District 8 Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray said. “Every single day there is a dollar store or a dollar type store under construction.”

Chapter 211 of the Texas Local Government Code authorizes the governing body

of a municipality to adopt zoning regulations designed to promote public health, safety, morals, or general welfare.

Current zoning regulations allow these stores, with a certificate of occupancy, in most mixed-use/form-based, commercial. They do not allow them in neighborhood

commercial restricted, residential districts, and predominantly residential form-based districts.

Common regulatory approaches in other cities have included:

*Limiting density through distance.

*Requiring the sale of fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats.

*Limiting signage.

*Reducing parking requirements for traditional grocery stores.

*Reducing regulatory restrictions on the sale of fresh fruits and vegetables.

*Providing incentives for traditional grocery stores.

Unlike other cities with small box discount store ordinances, such as Birmingham, Tulsa, Kansas City, and even nearby Mesquite, Fort Worth does not have distance limitations or conditional use (or similar) regulations with minimal requirements. Fort Worth does, however, have incentives for traditional grocery stores and relaxed regulations on farmers market and other fresh food providers, which Tulsa and Birmingham have, but Kansas City and Mesquite do not.

Oklahoma City and New Orleans are currently studying the issues.

Going forward, options appear to include keeping the status quo, providing incentives and education, limiting to fewer zoning districts, and allowing only through conditional use permits.

District 4 Councilman Cary Moon urged the council to move quick, adding “We may have to do something and then evolve that policy.”

Moon also added, “We can control the new businesses and what we expect from them. We can’t do that with existing businesses without an ordinance.”

Mayor Betsy Price supported Moon’s comment, saying, “I think we have to be really careful about regulating existing businesses. I don’t like the fact they’re there, but they’re already there. They came in and paid their dues.”

District 5 Councilwoman Gyna Bivens said the proliferation of such stores can stand in the way of actual grocery stores and supermarkets making their way into neighborhoods. She, likewise, called them predatory.

“You can sell butter, eggs and cheese and be considered a grocery store,” she said, adding that, however, does not constitute a real market.

Gray suggested using area farmers and their markets to help supply healthy food. “They are looking for places to sell their goods,” she said.

“This is about healthy communities,” Price said. “How do you stop the predatory stores that are just selling junk food?”

Upcoming steps include an informal report to the city council, and a zoning commission briefing in October; a vote by the zoning commission on a text amendment in November; and a city council vote on the text amendment in December.

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