UPDATED: City of Gresham "Big Box" Retail Design and Development Standards code nears completion

City of Gresham
Suzan Wells, Pres. SWNA
outside abandoned QFC store
182nd/Powell. Gresham Outlook

City of Gresham "Big Box" Code nears completion

UPDATE: Gresham approves big-box standards, Nov. 16

Years in the making

Five years ago the Southwest Neighborhood Association (SWNA) appealed to Gresham city leaders to create a code regulating big-box stores. Susan Wells, President of SWNA says "This is not about keeping businesses out. This is about responsible development in the City of Gresham."

A few years ago the City of Gresham became mired in a three year battle when Walmart's proposed supercenter (182nd & Powell) met with fierce opposition from the local neighborhood association over issues with traffic, safety and livability. Gresham approved the 212,000 sq ft project (complete with two levels of underground parking for 900 cars) but the neighborhood, worried about traffic problems, appealed the city’s decision to the state Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) and won. A year later, Walmart proposed a store half the size; this time the city rejected the proposal, citing traffic issues. Walmart appealed to LUBA, but the application was eventually denied in part due to strong citizen opposition.

UPDATE: Gresham approves big-box standards
(Source: The Gresham Outlook, Nov 16, 2010)
Gresham city councilors unanimously approved a package of code changes, new zones and a host of design standards to a round of applause on Tuesday, Nov. 16. Read more.

An important message to our neighbors

Susan Wells, President of the Southwest Neighborhood Association has helped shape the City's new "Big Box" Retail Design and Development Standards with her continued involvement. Throughout this project Susan has emailed valuable information and insight to share with our neighbors about this important community issue.

Below is Susan's latest email:

Sep 29, 2010
Hello everyone -

After more than 5 years we are approaching the end of time where I will be sending you emails regarding the City of Gresham's 'Big Box' Code (Large Format Retail Design). The City staff has been working very hard to make this happen. They have taken comments from the community, the Planning Commission, the Design Commission and the City Council and have utilized them all to make the code. At every meeting it has been noticeable that the comments from previous meetings were heard and incorporated. The time for offering comments is drawing to an end. The City Council mandated that this code be done and voted on before the end of the year, and the staff is working hard to accomplish that. There are only a few more opportunities to make comments, and then the final meetings where the code is approved and voted on.

The following is a brief explanation of what the new code looks like right now, and when the meetings are that you can attend to listen and/or make comments. Also included are the dates of the final meetings where you can attend to encourage or discourage the approval of the code. For those of you who are unable to attend the meetings, I will add to the end of this email the names and contact information for where you can write your comments. There is also an attachment that has some good points for speaking or written comments.

In asking that this process be started many years ago, we were hoping for Gresham to develop a plan or long range goals for what the future of retail was to be in the City. We were hoping to avoid the sprawl, chaotic development, and eliminate the huge super box stores. Many of those original ideas and goals will be accomplished with this new Large Retail Format code. As best as I can I will try to explain what has transpired in the process of developing this code. One result is that the City of Gresham now has a vision for how they would like to see the future of retail development within the City. There are now what are referred to as the 'Centers'. There are 3 of these, and the City would like for them to be their retail hubs. This is where they would like to have destination shopping. The 3 centers are: Downtown, Civic (Gresham Station/City Hall) and Rockwood. Each of the 3 centers will have their own development code. This is something that was in the works before the 'Big Box' code was started. The development of the 3 codes for the centers is almost completed. The 'Big Box' code is then designed for what is referred to as the Corridor Districts, which are all the retail areas that are not part of the 3 centers. Before the code would be applicable to the Corridor areas there will be other changes that are to occur first. That is zoning changes. The majority of the corridor retail areas will be receiving a zoning change. For many of the retail areas they will have a zoning requirement for buildings that are quite small (ie. 10,000, 15,000, 20,000 sq. ft.) Other retails areas that receive a change will be requireing smaller buildings than they are allowed now. They will have a maximum 40,000 sq. ft. footprint or less building size (with a special provision for a grocery store to be up to 60,000 sq. ft.). Due to allowing a height requirement, there is an 80,000 sq, ft. limit in these areas. There are however a couple of commercial areas that are left with the same zoning label but now will have a limit of 100,000 sq. ft. (if you want to know where those are please contact me). Previously, there hadn't been any limit on building size in many of these commercial areas of the city.

The other part of the 'Big Box' code includes new design standards for all retail development. There will be higher design standards for any building over 30,000 sq. ft. This includes language regarding, landscaping, sustainability, building materials, building design standards and more.

Developing a 'Big Box' code is not an easy task and it becomes more difficult in a city versus a smaller community. This code, as it is developing now, is not everything we could have hoped for. We are unlikely to be looked to as having a "state of the art" code, but it certainly will be an improvement regarding the standards for retail development in the City of Gresham.

A couple of important items that were originally discussed as being part of the big box code but were dropped are the following:

Economic Impact Studies - This is something that was discussed as being a requirement for the developer to complete when applying for a new development. This study would indicate how the proposed development would affect the businesses around the area of the development. This section was eventually dropped from the new code on advisement of the City Lawyer. These kind of studies are a good to require, especially for the larger type developments that can harm the existing smaller businesses. We would like to see this section be a part of the code, especially for the larger developments.

Vacancy Issues - The staff had discussions and did studies regarding this issue. It was discussed by the planning commission and the City Council and is still being discussed a little but looks like it will not be refined but instead be removed. This policy was not looking so necessary when the discussions indicated the building sizes would be smaller. Now that it looks like there will be a few areas that will allow some bigger development, it would be a wise policy to have. This is a policy that has consequences and standards directed to a developer or business regarding large empty buildings that have been left vacant for a long period of time.

Thanks to all who have attended meetings, spoke or written in the past. Please take the time to do it again. We have made much headway, and we need to maintain the energy and public involvement to see this project through. Time is running out. If you want one last chance to make a lasting impact on the future of Gresham regarding "Big Boxes", the time is now. I will send out a reminder when we get closer to the meetings where voting will occur.

Thanks to you all,
Suzan Wells

Information for written comments

Shane Bemis - Shane.Bemis@greshamoregon.gov

City Councilors:
Dick Strathern - Dick.Strathern@greshamoregon.gov
Shirley Craddick - Shirley.Craddick@greshamoregon.gov
Paul Warr-King - Paul.Warr-King@greshamoregon.gov
David Widmark - David.Widmark@greshamoregon.gov
Carol Nielsen-Hood - Carol.Nielsen-Hood@greshamoregon.gov
Josh Fuhrer - Josh.Fuhrer@greshamoregon.gov

City Manager:
Erik Kvarsten - Jeannette.mcgarity@GreshamOregon.gov

Planning Commission:
Tammy Richardson - tammy.richardson@greshamoregon.gov

City of Gresham
1333 NW Eastman Parkway
Gresham, Oregon 97030

Gresham Outlook Newspaper
1190 NE Division St
Gresham, Oregon 97030

Go online to send in an email form of letter to the editor or you can write to this reporter: Mara Stine - mstine@theoutlookonline.com

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