Council Report: Small box discount stores get new rules

Fort Worth City Hall 


It’s one thing to save few dollars, but when that savings replaces a healthier way of living, Fort Worth city officials have a problem.

So, at Tuesday’s meeting, the Fort Worth City Council voted 8-1 to amend the city’s ordinance concerning small box discount stores such as Dollar General, Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, 99 Cents Store, etc.

A small box discount store is a retail store with a floor area less than 10,000 square feet

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that offers for sale an assortment of goods, including food or beverages for off-premise consumption, household products, personal grooming and health products and other items. Small box discount stores do not include retail stores that:

*Contain a prescription pharmacy.

*Sell gasoline or diesel fuel.

*Primarily sell specialty food items (e.g. meat, seafood, cheese, or oils and vinegars).

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*Dedicate less than 15% of floor area or shelf space to fresh foods and vegetables.

The amendment provides that a conditional use permit would be required to add small box discount stores to a commercial district and establishes conditions that must be met. These include separation requirements (2 miles) and the inclusion of fresh produce, meat and dairy products (15% of the floor area).

Major concerns that helped bring about the changes include:

*High concentrations reduce viability for traditional grocery stores.

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*Limit Blue Zones goals of providing healthier food options.

*Limit access to fresh and affordable meat and produce.

“It’s a lot harder to bring in a retail grocer, someone who has all those things to make sure our families are healthy,” District 8 Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray said.

Gray said that a recent study showed that almost 100 small box discount stores are in the Fort Worth area, largely from Interstate 35 East to the Arlington city limits.

Earlier this fall, Fort Worth Director of Planning and Development Randle Harwood gave the council a briefing on the status of the apparent proliferation of small box discounts and their effect on the city. He said the majority are in poor or lower income neighborhoods, and that one such store is likely to attract more. He echoed Gray’s thoughts that it may be impacting the potential for new grocery stores in areas known as food deserts.

“When the new stores come in you’ll be happy with what you see, and it’s because people stood up and said, ‘No more,'” District 5 Councilwoman Gyna Bivens said.

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.

Several other council members expressed their concern for the situation and support of the amendment.

“Understandably, there is a concern when government attempts to restrict or regulate the free market. A role of government is to regulate: What you build and where you build. Regulation, when used effectively, can benefit the Free market and its consumers,” District 4 Councilman Cary Moon said in support.

“The city is looking to restrict concentrations of a particular ‘use’ – a restriction which may allow other users to enter the market and to offer a better product (e.g. fruits and vegetables) to an area with a void.’”

District 7 Councilman and Mayor Pro Tem Dennis Shingleton said, “You can’t blame Dollar General for coming in. They do well, but if you get too many and it keeps the bigger stores out, that’s not good. But it could be a win-win if we can get cooperation from those stores.”

District 3 Councilman Brian Byrd was the lone council member to vote no on the matter. He referred to the city’s Comprehensive Plan, which he said guides the city council’s zoning decisions, in this case properties zoned for commercial development.

“With rare exceptions – this is not one of them – once a property is zoned the owner should determine its best use,” Byrd said.

Gray has suggested using area farmers and their markets to help supply healthy food, noting that they are consistently looking for places to sell their goods. She also said there are examples of other small box discount stores with pilot programs that include the selling of healthier eating options, including fresh fruits and vegetables. She said city officials are hoping to study one or more of these programs to see if it can be implemented in Fort Worth.

“I get that fresh fruits and vegetables isn’t their market (small box discount stores), but we as a city have all these healthy initiatives, and we want those retailers to be involved,” she said.

“If you drive down any major street, around the corner there’s one there. Then, you throw in a payday lender or a title cash business, and it starts to look predatory.”