PLANNING COMMISSION BIG BOX REVIEW SUBCOMMITTEE MINUTES
Himmel Park Library Meeting Room
1035 North Treat Avenue
May 16, 2002
Members: Rob Tomlinson, Chairperson; Grace Evans; Joyce Joosten; Thomas Sayler-Brown
Staff: Sarah More, James Maurer, Jennifer Noriega, and Kathy Buchanan, Planning
Interested Parties: John Rupley, El Con Resident; Connie Diamos; Bill DuPont, Colonia Solana NA; Frank Bangs, Lewis & Roca; Anne Murray; Chris Tanz, T.U.C.S.O.N.; Dave Burns, Architect, Development Review Board; and Terry Dee, Home Depot
1. Call to Order: Rob Tomlinson, the Subcommittee Chair, called the meeting to order at 4:15 p.m.
2. Introductions: Those in attendance were introduced.
3. Minutes for Approval: Motion by Grace Evans, seconded by Joyce Joosten, and carried unanimously by a voice vote of 4 to 0 (Bob Morgan, absent) to approve the minutes from the May 9, 2002, meeting.
4. Guest Speaker: Dave Burns, representing the City of Tucson's Development Review Board (DRB), addressed the Subcommittee concerning the role of the DRB in the review of big box projects. Dave stated that he has been a member of the DRB for the past four or five years and is currently the chairperson. The DRB members include four architects and two landscape architects. He indicated that the DRB has reviewed three or four big box projects to date. He said that the items for which DRB review is conducted fall into two categories: (1) specific requirements and (2) performance criteria. Specific requirements are those with which the applicant can or cannot comply. These include things such as screening of trash enclosures, lighting, etc. The performance criteria include mass, scale, and a pedestrian-friendly environment.
Dave then described the DRB review of two different big box projects: (1) the Home Depot at Broadway and Pantano and (2) the Lowe's at Oracle and Limberlost. He stated that the Home Depot was reviewed by the DRB on six different occasions. Sometime between these meetings, the Lowe's was reviewed. The developers of the Lowe's project wanted to reduce the number of parking spaces from that required by the Land Use Code (LUC) and they were redeveloping an existing department store site, which the DRB liked. In addition, the representatives of the Lowe's project were willing to make concessions requested by the neighborhood. He indicated that the Home Depot project was the opposite story. The DRB "wrestled" with them at each meeting.
Dave suggested that big boxes are zoning issues not architectural issues. He said that when a big box closes the community is left with a building that is hard to reuse due to its size and form. This type of building is hard to fill with anything else. For example, the K-Mart at Harrison and Golf Links has been standing empty for a long time. Most of these buildings have just one door in and one door out. Therefore, they make excellent warehouses but not much else. However, the developers demand a monolithic building because of how they operate. He indicated that where a big box is located is important. The Target at Irvington and I-19 fits.
Dave commented that the Home Depot DRB meetings included lawyers at each one. The Home Depot developer wanted 300 more spaces than the number required by the LUC. In addition, the DRB requested that there be some pedestrian access, and the Home Depot would not provide it. He discussed issues relating to safety, such as parking in the rear without any windows or doors in the area. The DRB asked for changes in the design, such as windows and architectural features. Home Depot eventually conceded on some issues, such as paint, tiles, etc, but not windows.
Dave stated he felt it would be tough to write an ordinance that assures there will be a satisfactory result from the developers. He wondered if big boxes should be located in a zone of their own. He said this city should be happy when a retailer decides to develop here, but instead, we try to hide them with setbacks, walls, etc. He indicated he felt that a big box is not a use that fits into residential areas. Concerning the Home Depot project, he stated the DRB recommended against approval; however, the project was then approved anyway. He said the DRB is placed in an awkward position when it recommends against a project and that decision is not supported. He suggested developers meet with the DRB for preliminary review very early in the process.
5. Discussion of Large Retail Establishments Ordinance: Sarah More stated that the big box review process is frustrating from everyone's perspective. She said that since the Home Depot had gone through the rezoning process and been approved by the Mayor and Council, the location question had been answered. The point of the design review is to make the building look better and fit into the location better.
Dave said it is difficult to make a big box look like anything else and it is difficult to get real changes in the building from the corporate template. Again, it very much depends on where it is located. The form has to be reviewed in relation to the specific site.
Rob Tomlinson asked Dave if he was looking for something more proscriptive. Dave said that the DRB review should not be so subjective. He stated that the DRB also reviews other projects, such as those in a Scenic Corridor Zone, and in those cases, it can often get the developer to rearrange building locations based on the view.
Rob suggested that, if the big box were located in an industrially scaled environment, the DRB might not need to review it at all.
Sarah said that if we are going to have big boxes we need to make sure that a large percentage of the population is within "x" number of miles driving distance of the building. She said, where an area has been deemed for heavy commercial use, there may only be little things that can be done to the building. She asked if Dave was suggesting that once the locational decision is made the design issues don't matter.
Dave reiterated that, if you want a panel to review the design, you need to respect the findings that come out of that review. If it is not the political will to change the design of a big box in a residential area, why have the DRB review it?
Chris Tanz said she wanted to thank the DRB for taking the big box issue seriously and hoped that they don't give up. She said this process may cause more pressure to allow DRB decisions to stand. She wondered if Dave was suggesting a zone specifically for big boxes.
Anne Murray said she wanted to discuss two issues. The first was corporate inflexibility—where headquarters makes a decision about a design and then places that design all over the country. The second was commercial zoning intended to accommodate the needs of the community. She said she felt the two were clashing.
Dave suggested we not put incompatible uses side by side. If a use needs an 8' high screen wall, it is simply not compatible with the surrounding use. Big boxes should be placed near roads that can handle the use.
Terry Dee, representing the Home Depot, stated that Home Depot had never closed a store in the history of the company. (He clarified later that stores had been relocated but never closed.) He asked that the Subcommittee not consider Home Depot, Target, Wal-Mart, and K-Mart as one type of big box; he said they should not all be lumped together. He said the Century 21 Theater at El Con is the same size as the Home Depot, but the big box ordinance does not apply to the theater. He also stated that Home Depots in different locations look different.
Frank Bangs asked what the visual difference was in the two buildings.
Rob said there were three types of retail: (1) home improvement (Home Depot, Lowe's), (2) general retail (Target), and (3) mixed retail and food (Super K-Mart).
Chris stated that, because laws cannot be written for specific retailers, the Home Depots and the Wal-Marts need to be placed in the same category. She suggested that the discussion should go toward "shoulds" instead of "shalls"—such as, there should be a 200' setback instead of shall be.
Dave asked why we even have this ordinance if it applies to Home Depots but not to theaters. What is it the City is trying to do with this ordinance? He said if a retailer came to his neighborhood and wanted to bring in a 180,000-square-foot building he should be happy about it—not try to screen it out. He said that, when Walgreens plans come to DRB for review with only 6' of landscaping instead of 10', the DRB will suggest making the building 4' smaller to accommodate the landscaping, but they are told Walgreens cannot do that.
Frank said Dave mentioned the big box being more of a zoning issue than an architectural issue and asked Dave what he felt the differences were in the Lowe's and the Home Depot reviewed by DRB.
Dave answered that the Lowe's was taking out the old building and replacing it with one that was shorter in height; they requested fewer parking spaces; they planned improving the west side drainage channel; they pulled the face of the building back and planted that edge; they put in windows where requested; and they fit in better because there are similar-sized buildings in the area, such as Borders. They made concessions and responded to the DRB's comments. The DRB should not have to be for or against a project; they should simply be able to help the project fit the site. Frank asked if it was that Lowe's reused an existing site and improved the relationship with the neighborhood to the west. Dave said that was correct.
Frank stated that, given the fact it is the same zoning, if you were to figure the mix of retail on Broadway and on Oracle, it probably wouldn't differ that much. Dave said that on Broadway the viewshed must be considered. The Catalina Mountains are located to the north.
Bill DuPont said that his response to why the ordinance is needed is that it is a tool for the neighborhoods. He said neighborhoods need the ordinance in order to be able to negotiate.
Dave stated again he questions having a design review panel make a decision and not have Mayor and Council support it.
Sarah discussed the impact the Sonoran Desert Institute's report will have on overall design within the city and its support by Mayor and Council. She said that the City Manager and the Mayor and Council have directed staff to work on city-wide design guidelines and standards. This expanded project may address other commercial developments, such as smaller shopping centers and movie theaters.
Dave indicated he did not like design guidelines, but if we are going to have them and ask for a subjective review, there needs to be a process in place for it to happen. He said dialog with the applicant must start early and continue.
Joyce asked about the DRB process—is a DRB approval or disapproval noted, or does the Planning Director make the decision?
Sarah clarified that the DRB makes recommendations to the Planning Department, the Planning Department makes recommendations to the Zoning Examiner, and the Zoning Examiner makes recommendations to the Mayor and Council. The Mayor and Council make the final decision based on all of that input. The DRB recommendation is just one part of that process.
Dave said that one mistake the DRB made in the Home Depot case at Broadway and Pantano was not being specific enough. It neglected to provide a specific list of what the developer refused to do. Dave indicated that the DRB wrote the recommendations down for the applicant but didn't include them in the motion. He asked if it is possible for the applicant to take the original plan to the Mayor and Council and not the one revised per the DRB recommendations. Sarah stated that the application can continue through the process as proposed by the developer, at their option.
Joyce asked what sites had gone through DRB review. Dave said it has been the Target on Old Spanish Trail, the Lowe's on Oracle, and the Home Depot on Broadway. The first two were recommended for approval.
Joyce asked for a definition of mass and scale. Dave provided that. Joyce stated that if the neighborhood could take items it wanted to see in a project to the DRB that would be good.
John Rupley addressed Dave asking that the DRB not give up. He wanted to remind everyone that the origin of the current ordinance was the inappropriate placement of the Home Depot at El Con Mall. He said it is important that there be meetings where everyone can get together—the developer, the neighborhoods, and the DRB.
Joyce stated that neighbors often feel that what is presented is very inflexible.
Grace asked Dave what representatives from Home Depot met with the DRB. Dave answered that it was an architect from San Francisco and an attorney. There may have been a developer at one meeting. Grace asked if the architects are employed by the retailer. Dave said he believed they were private architects who had a contract with the Home Depot, but he wasn't sure. Grace asked if it was the architect who said the requested changes couldn't be made. Dave said it was but that he may simply have not had the freedom to make changes. Grace asked if it would have helped in this case to start talking earlier in the process, and Dave said he didn't think so.
Terry said history has shown that the Home Depot is open to discussion—just look at El Con.
Frank said it was too bad that the DRB did not articulate the reasons for denial. He said that DRB did not feel it was an appropriate site for the Home Depot. Dave said that was not true. It was not saying it was or was not an appropriate site for the Home Depot; it just may not have been an appropriate site for this big box.
Dave indicated that the Home Depot did come back with some positive changes at the Broadway and Pantano site; however, they were very minor. DRB reviews for mass and scale. If the Home Depot is not willing to break the mass up, there isn't room to negotiate.
Rob said that with a 140,000-square-foot building under one roof there are fairly onerous hurdles to overcome. He suggested breaking that building up—for example, placing the paint, electrical, etc., in one 80,000-square-foot building and then having lumber a short distance away in a 60,000-square-foot building. He wondered why big box developers aren't willing to break them up. Dave indicated that if the City demanded it, they would do it. Frank suggested it is probably more cost effective to put it in one building.
Rob asked what the zoning was at the Home Depot at Broadway and Pantano. Frank stated it was C-2. Rob stated that we have an imperfectly zoned urban area with which we have to deal.
John asked if there was any way to change a parcel's zoning over the wishes of the owner—to a lower zone. Rob replied that you cannot do that because it diminishes the owner's rights and constitutes a taking.
6. Distribution of "Proposed Summary of Big Box Revision Issues" by Frank Bangs: Frank presented copies of this summary of the issues to those in attendance.
7. Next Meeting: The next meeting will be held on May 23 at 4:00 p.m. in the same location, Himmel Park Library Meeting Room, 1035 N. Treat Avenue.
8. Adjournment: 5:55 p.m.