Committee Votes to Recommend UDO, Comp Plan Amendments

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The battle of supermarkets vs. superstores raged on at last week’s Comprehensive Planning Committee meeting, where members continued a discussion on changes to the city’s Unified Development Ordinance.

In its August 12 meeting, committee members discussed four items related to the UDO update, and city staff followed up with nine recommendations.

These recommendations, which staff had designated as “follow-up items”, were the primary focus of the August 26 meeting. Committee members chose to vote to have these items reviewed by the full city council at an upcoming meeting, instead of just discussing them as they did previously.

The items covered issues ranging from the site plan review process to the definitions of terms within the neighborhood and commercial mixed-use zoning designations.

Semantic Debate
These definitions – for terms like supermarket, superstore, large-format supermarket, etc. – lie at the heart of the debate over the much-discussed North Raleigh Publix.

As reported here, there are some in Raleigh who feel that stretching the definition of a supermarket to accommodate a 50,000-square-foot store would have a detrimental effect on surrounding neighborhoods.

One of the key arguments of those opposed to the Publix is that its land-use designation, neighborhood mixed-use, prohibits “super stores/centers,” which they say Publix would qualify as.

Staff recommended an amendment to the comprehensive plan that would define a variety of retail types, including supermarkets, which could range from 20,000 to 50,000 square feet, and a supercenter, which could range from 50,000 to 100,000 square feet. The maximum size for a neighborhood mixed-use property is proposed to cap out at 45,000 square feet.

Additionally, staff recommended removing the language from the comprehensive plan which disallows superstores in neighborhood mixed-use designated areas.

This combination would essentially nullify many of the arguments against the Publix development, and was not surprisingly met with contention from the project’s opponents.

David Cox, the founder of Grow Raleigh Great, was once again on hand to argue that the superstore language should not be removed from the comprehensive plan and that the city should adopt the Food Marketing Institute’s definition of a superstore as anything larger than 30,000 square feet.

“I think we have to go back to the definitions of 2009 from the Food Marketing Institute,” Cox said.

“Because that’s when these terms were first introduced into the Comprehensive Plan.”

“We are updating the language,” to reflect societal changes like the growth of supermarkets, countered committee chairman Russ Stephenson, who noted “we’re removing ‘video rentals.’”

Ultimately the committee voted to approve staff’s recommendations, with the stipulation that an additional definition be found for the terms superstore and large-format supermarket.

Approving Recommendations
The committee members voted to approve most of staff’s suggestions in a similar matter, either recommending them outright or recommending them with a few tweaks added.

Although many of the issues were interrelated – the second and third recommendations both dealt with the specific definition of various terms in the Comprehensive Plan – they were varied enough that committee members were able to tack on a number of requirements.

The additions ranged from specific ways to determine future land use consistency to the potential need for new buffers for legacy zoning districts.

As committee member Eugene Weeks had to leave early, members were only able to vote on eight of the nine items. The final item and the only one not recommended for approval dealt with the transition standards of development near an alley.

The committee also held a discussion on watershed development, which some have called to be capped out at 30,000 square feet. Stephenson stressed that no decisions on the issue would be reached that day, and that any rules developed would be generalized and not tailored to specific developments.

“We’re not here to pick winners and losers,” he said.

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