Archive for Thursday, June 15, 2006

City inches toward tighter retail regulations

Proposal aims to avoid high vacancy rates

June 15, 2006


Listen up, Dillards, Macy's, Lowe's or any other large retailer looking to locate in Lawrence: City leaders are closer to creating a more stringent process for stores to win approval to locate in the city.

Three of the five city commissioners on Wednesday expressed support for a new retail market analysis requirement that would recommend the city reject any new developments of 50,000 square feet or more if the development is projected to push the city's overall retail vacancy rate to more than 8 percent.

"This is a tool that we have needed for a long time," said City Commissioner Mike Rundle, who was joined by commissioners Boog Highberger and David Schauner in expressing support for the proposed policy at a joint study session with the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission.

The idea behind the policy is that high vacancy rates lead to blighted areas, which ultimately create problems - ranging from crime to dangerous structures - that the government must address.

But members of the development community are concerned that the proposal is nothing more than a way for some planning commissioners and city commissioners to reject new retail.

"These are just mental gymnastics for people who want to say no whenever they want," said Mark Andersen, a Lawrence lawyer who has represented several development projects. "It gives them more ways to say no."

As it is currently proposed, the new policy would mandate any large project pushing the vacancy rate above 8 percent be rejected. But there was talk at Wednesday's study session that planners and city commissioner should have the ability to deviate from the policy in certain situations.

The new policy also would require the city to create and maintain a sales tax database that would measure retail sales by geographic areas of the city and also by specific types of retail businesses. It also would compare Lawrence sales in specific sectors to broader averages to provide information about whether particular retail sectors were overbuilt or underbuilt in the community. That database also would be used in evaluating developments of more than 50,000 square feet.

"Hopefully, the decision-making process becomes more objective with better information," Schauner said.

Planning commissioners said one of the primary uses for the database would be to determine types of retail businesses that are lacking in Lawrence so that planners could figure out ways to perhaps attract those businesses.

But the data also could be used to determine retail sectors that are overbuilt in the city. With that information, planners would have greater ability to place conditions on development plans that prohibit certain types of retail businesses from locating in a development. Several planning commissioners, though, said they thought it would be unlikely the data would be used that way.

"I can't imagine that anyone is going to use this to look at a particular development and say you can't have this specific type of business in it," said Planning Commissioner John Haase.

Planning commissioners and city commissioners have done essentially that on at least one occasion. Development plans for the northwest corner of Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive were prohibited from including a department store based on concerns that one would hurt downtown Lawrence.

Andersen said some members of the retail community are now concerned that the new policy would open the door to more instances where planners would begin prohibiting certain types of businesses based on market factors.

"I don't think most people in the retail sector are very comfortable with the idea of going to local government to get permission to open a business, essentially," Andersen said.

Horizon 2020, the city's comprehensive plan, mentions the need for a retail market analysis and spells out the need to keep vacancy rates at or less than 8 percent. But Andersen, who has represented the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce on the issue, said the language in Horizon 2020 gives planners all the direction they need.

"We don't need to create all this bureaucracy," Andersen said.

The issue is expected to be before city commissioners in mid-July.


lunacydetector 12 years ago

so much for a free market society.

so much for that expensive study the city paid out that said lawrence needed more retail.

so if some big boy retailer wants to come to town, how is the city going to judge if the big boy is going to create an 8% vacancy rate? if the big boy retailer is a successful national firm, will that hamper their chances? if K-Mart wanted to open a store in town again, would the city welcome them since K-Mart's in bankruptcy?

come next election, it's time for a regime change at city hall.

...REMINDER! the progressives (they didn't call themselves that at the time) voted FOR the tanger outlet mall AND the riverfront mall. both BIG losers. essentially the progressives created the only blight lawrence has seen.

koo-koo, koo-koo, koo-koo, koo-koo, koo-koo - is that my clock?

lunacydetector 12 years ago

a little clarification: the progressives (they didn't call themselves that at the time) LOBBIED for the tanger outlet mall AND the riverfront mall. both BIG losers.

Sigmund 12 years ago

Yet another reason not to do business in Lawrence. I suspect we will never get a decent whole foods grocery chain to compete with the Merc as long as the Progressives control and run roughshod over the Kommission. Shame really.

Sandman 12 years ago

Sewers backing up, roads crumbling..

..and THIS is what our City Commission is doing??

YoungGrams 12 years ago

Looks like I will continue to take my shopping dollars to the Big City.

nonimbyks 12 years ago

"...expressed support for a new retail market analysis requirement that would recommend..." Great! Just what a prospective business wants to have to do, ANOTHER study on top of their study to choose Lawrence in the first place.

"...Wednesday's study session that planners and city commissioner should have the ability to deviate..." Gotta love the "should" words when it comes to our dear sweet comrades.

"...planners would have greater ability to place conditions on development plans that prohibit certain types of retail businesses from locating in a development. Several planning commissioners, though, said they thought it would be unlikely the data would be used that way." What!?! More conditions and the data couldn't possibly be used against them for wanting to move here?

The city commission is supposed to guide and plan on the growth of the city and not be the dictator. Just call Lawrence the "Little Commies of the Plains"

conservative 12 years ago

I fully support the idea of finding ways to keep existing retail space from sitting idle, BUT THIS IS NOT IT! Try some tax abatements or stop making so many rules that are anti business in this town if you want people to risk starting small businesses. The big box stores are what is killing off some of our smaller businesses, but what they fail to realize is it is happenening because people refuse to be overcharged and are driving to KC or Topeka to get their stuff. If they would allow these businesses into Lawrence at least the taxes would be kept in the city.

erichaar 12 years ago

Anyone but Boog, Schauner and Rundle.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years ago

"a little clarification: the progressives (they didn't call themselves that at the time) LOBBIED for the tanger outlet mall AND the riverfront mall. both BIG losers."

You keep repeating this, luny, and it couldn't be further from the truth. Those malls were 100%creations of the chambocrats.

I'm not all that excited about this idea, mainly because it doesn't sound like it'd be easy to get accurate enough information to do it right. But the real point is to prevent large companies coming in, overbuilding the retail base, and using predatory tactics to drive out the competition.

Once they are gone, prices go up, and the city is stuck with buildings that have no occupants, and the eventual blight that goes with it. This WILL happen because the market isn't as perfect or as magical as many of you are convinced it is.

Sigmund 12 years ago

I certainly have never believed the markets are infallible, it is just that they tend to be better at allocating economic resources better than centralized planned economies.

I do wish this sales tax database had been available prior to the smoking ban as it would be nice to be able to quantify the impact to local sales taxes revenues from bars and coffee shops of that ban.

monkeyhawk 12 years ago

You can fool some of the people some of the time...

Yes, Marion, I feel it in my bones that there is a rush to push through as much destruction to the city of Lawrence as possible before the plc gets the boot. Everyone should brace themselves for more self serving policy. They do not care about the affects and unintended consequences of these decisions as long as they are true to the Gore and Soros school of control.

One thing for sure, they have hightened awareness of city/county government for those who have not ever paid attention in the past. We can thank them for the lesson.

Fatty_McButterpants 12 years ago

Perhaps, if landlords weren't allowed to charge ridiculous sums of money for "not-so-great" space in a "not-as-great-as-it-thinks-it-is" town, we wouldn't have every other storefront sitting empty.

moveforward 12 years ago

Conspiracy theories aside... (though I am suseptable myself), Lawrence is not big enough for another Merc like store. Look at the density of population that just one Whole Foods store serves.

But thank God that Wild Oats came to town and sobbered up the Merc's management. Prior to that they were insuferable snobs, unwilling to provide competitive product or customer service. They have come a long ways in scrambling to compete. Been to target lately... they stock tons of organic produce these days.

cutny 12 years ago

Oh Marion, just wish us good luck as you ride your high horse out of town.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 12 years ago

"there is nothing available at the Merc that cannot be purchased for less elsewhere"

That's not my experience. I've not found bison ribeyes where I shop. The pies at the Merc are ordinary "pies", which you can buy anywhere; but the pies at the Merc are like pure cocaine, super-high quality (I'm guessing, I've not had cocaine before). I shop very infrequently at the Merc, but I do go there from time to time because if you look closely, they really do have some unique items. If you are a tea lover, or are into making your own food mixes at home, you'll find ingredients at the Merc that you won't find anywhere else.

If you are saying "they sell meat at Checkers" then , yes, they do sell the "same" stuff. But, anyone who's trying to do something special in the kitchen is likely going to have to do some shopping at the Merc or HyVee.

As much as I don't like most of what we've seen from the "Three Horsemen" (as Marion put it), I'm liking this idea, somewhat. For a city of our size, we really do have all the "big box" stores we need. I think we need to protect ourselves from the mistakes of Johnson County.

I once thought that the progressive mindset was correct, and maybe for a while it was what we needed (though, the Riverfront Plaza was a mistake on every level, I used to manage a business there, believe me). But I'd like to see more balance in our commercial mix, now.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 12 years ago

Does anyone remember the "alternative toilet paper" they used to sell at the Merc? It was a big, wide LEAF. An actualy leaf, from a plant, like a big weed. I have hay fever, so I wasn't willing to rub THAT down THERE. After seeing that, I never visited the Merc again until they moved to the old IGA location.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 12 years ago

"this consciousness will directly affect revenues at the Merc"

Maybe, but only a little, I think. Too many people go to the Merc out of principle. They think that by doing so, they are not participating in or perpetuating the way that the bad corporations are [insert political issue here] to the common man/the planet/etc. (Not that I've ever seen Jim Lewis oppressing anyone in his store while dumping toxic waste in the Kaw.) Too many of us believe that we are obligated to shop there, conscienciously speaking. It's a politically fashionable place to shop for certain kinds of wannabes. For some, it's about maintaining a liberal "street cred".

I'm not trying to bash the general population of those who shop there (I've been known to shop there), but if you are "trying to look" liberal and socially conscious, the Merc is NOT optional. These days, it takes more than a 20 year old Volvo covered with bumper stickers.

ilovelucy 12 years ago

If we want the trio of progressives out of office come the next election, then we'll have to unite to rectify the situation. So much of this city is complacent. "Oh, that won't happen to us." And as we've seen over the last 6 years or so, it has. One thing the progressives have going for them is ORGANIZATION. Their campaigns were well run. I hope for everyone's sake that we ALL step up to vote them out of office.

kolisach 12 years ago

Okay, I know that this will be an unpopular statement, but for all you people that complain about the Commission EVERYDAY, didn't you know what you were getting into when you moved to Lawrence? You knew that it was the most liberal city in the state and that people live there, not because there are tons of jobs or big-box shopping, but because of the quality of life.

And quality of life includes walkability, parks, quality retail establishments, public transportation, and...yes...roundabouts (which, by the way...get over it people).

If you want to live in a city that is ruled by big-box retail and looks like everywhere else in the United States, move to Johnson County or Topeka.

Of course, it seems to me like there are just people out there that complain for the sake of complaining. You would probably find something to dislike about anywhere you live.

Okay, now you can pick me apart.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 12 years ago

"Of course, it seems to me like there are just people out there that complain for the sake of complaining."

Yep. That explains much of what happens on these boards.

bankboy119 12 years ago

Of course there are people out there that just like to complain and that's too bad, their lives must suck. Aside from that, there are other people who truly care about what happens and voice their complaints when needed.

Lawrence is already the most business unfriendly town in Kansas, probably in all of the surrounding states as well. People complain about not having decent jobs here and yet you don't want any more businesses coming to town? I don't think you can have it both ways.

True, it is nice to have hometown stores and not go to Wallyworld for anything and everything even if you have to pay a little bit more. At the same time it's nice to have a one stop shop every once in awhile.

Also, "You knew that it was the most liberal city in the state and that people live there, not because there are tons of jobs or big-box shopping, but because of the quality of life." Er...I don't know what quality of life you're talking about (my quality of life in KC is a lot better than L-town) but sure let's go with it. Why are the loving liberals not taking care of the existing infrastructure with all of the pot holes and sewer problems, traffic (which by the way causes more harm to the environment than if they actually took care of the problem), and yet can throw hundreds of thousands of dollars at roundabouts, parks and flowers? They're spending all this money on new frills without taking care of the existing population.

Godot 12 years ago

"You knew that it was the most liberal city in the state and that people live there, not because there are tons of jobs or big-box shopping, but because of the quality of life."

Some of us were born here and put down roots when it was a nice, quiet, affordable place to live where it was possible to run a small business, where you had freedom to live the way you wanted, where government was in the background, just providing the basic services we needed, like police, water, sewers, streets, etc. That is no longer the case. Now government is the center of life in Lawrence.

And we certainly didn't know what we were getting when this PLC crowd was elected. Why? Because we had no idea the extent to which they were going to inject the agenda of national political movement called "smart growth" into local politics.

If the PLC are allowed to "Moveon" (choice of words is intentional) with their left wing agenda, the Lawrence economy is in deep trouble.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years ago

"Lawrence is already the most business unfriendly town in Kansas, probably in all of the surrounding states as well."

This is repeated often, but as near as I can tell it mainly means that there is a feeling here that businesses need to follow more or less the same rules as anybody else in town, but that is termed as "unfriendly" by those who think there should be a separate set of rules for businesses, and lots of corporate welfare.

lunacydetector 12 years ago

everything i say is true unless i'm being sarcastic but the progressives (they didn't call themselves that at the time) lobbied for the only blight lawrence has seen -that being the riverfront mall and the tanger outlet mall -no sarcasm implied.

i will try to find some articles regarding this when i have the time. one thing i do know, i have a damn good memory.

i'm surprised bozo doesn't remember unless bozo didn't live here at the time.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years ago

I remember it quite well, and you couldn't be more wrong.

Jamesaust 12 years ago

There's certainly nothing improper in the cited justification for the policy - avoiding retail blight. It seems however that the proposed policy commits the double-sin of being overinclusive and underinclusive.

First, the policy is underinclusive in that it does not guarantee or especially make likely that vacancy does not fall below the set 8%. Vacancy rates depend upon many factors outside of the City's control, most especially general economic health. Since vacancy rates are a lagging indicator of economic health (businesses do not abandon their sites because they anticipate bad conditions in the future) but new development is a forward-looking indicator (either a sign of economic confidence or foolishness), these two items will not be easily linked or kept linked. So, the goal is fine but the proposed means is not preventative of the problem.

Second, the proposed policy is overinclusive, and in two ways.

A - single, isolated events can raise the vacancy rate and be unconnected to the state of retail health - for example, Payless Cashways' bankruptcy several years back left an enormous building sitting empty for years and years until a special situation developed where a tenant could be found (actually, bribed into moving). While the City needs to view very large developments with a careful eye, that is a constant regardless of the vacancy rate.

B - the City's desire to micro-manage retail "sectors" to avoid being "overbuilt" is absolutely unacceptable if for no other reason than the City (except by blind luck) will ALWAYS have inferior information to judge "overbuiltness" compared with the experts who are putting down their own good money in belief that the "sector" is NOT overbuilt. In other words, businesses do not outlay large sums of capital on a whim - something we know to be true because they'd quickly bankrupt themselves if they did. The City is no more capable of adequately making a macro-judgment that there are "enough" grocery stores in Lawrence than they are able to make a micro-judgment that there is "enough" Lucky Charms breakfast cereal being sold. Its (far) beyond their competency.

Godot 12 years ago

Reality_Check, you are right on target. I heard through reliable sources that certain KU profs, hosting the Chinese delegation recently, bragged to the ChiComs that they had been conducting a social experiment in Lawrence for years, and could easily control conditions through their influence on local government.

This must be another phase of their "experiment."

bankboy119 12 years ago

Bozo, I don't know what you mean by "they have to follow the same rules as everybody else." If by that you mean that no businesses should get any incentives to come to Lawrence you've lived up to your name yet again. Why have many businesses not come to Lawrence vs. Topeka, Tonganoxie, or the rest of the surrounding area? Incentives. It's not corporate welfare, it's improving the city economy. You should take a look at long term incentives.

If you give a business a 50% tax abatement, or more, for 10 years then yes the city loses out on taxes for 10 years. After those 10 years, the business is still here and starts generating MORE revenue for the city. I say more because during those first years that the business is getting an abatement, the jobs that the business generate will be cause for more homes being built (property taxes) more revenue being kept in the city (sales tax) and, hopefully, with more people being here it will be cause for more businesses to open up, thus keeping the cycle alive. The city starts to keep more revenue because with more businesses and more options for people to spend their money they can keep it in the town instead of driving to Topeka (who wants to go there I don't know) JoCo, Wyandotte, KC, basically anywhere that actually has businesses.

bankboy119 12 years ago

GoDot...that sounds REALLY far fetched but I've been wrong before.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years ago

And everybody else (including businesses that don't get abatements) pick up the tab-- different rules for those extra-special businesses.

bankboy119 12 years ago

Cost/Benefit analysis Bozo. For a person who is going self-employed and is only bringing 1 job to the city, themselves, no there is no reason for a tax abatement. For a company, like the industry that you have so thoughtfully pointed out needs to come here on the Farmland thread, that is going to bring 50, 75, 100+ jobs here for years to come, yes it is warranted. The start-up costs are greater, more capital is involved, and the benefits to the city are more as well.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years ago

But where do you draw the line? This commission has decided that the line should be drawn somewhere that really does benefit the city, and not just the company involved.

bankboy119 12 years ago

"This commission has decided that the line should be drawn somewhere that really does benefit the city, and not just the company involved."

You're not following me. By giving benefits to the businesses you're giving benefits to the city. This commission is saying we want to large businesses, we want no industry, we only want high cost products with low paying jobs. The citizens are saying, okay commission, if you aren't going to allow the stores in here that we can afford on our low paying salaries, we're taking our money to surrounding areas. The limited monies that are in the city now are being spent in the surrounding areas. If we had the businesses then more money would be kept in the city rather than relying on college students and only being an overpriced bedroom community.

Godot 12 years ago

"GoDot...that sounds REALLY far fetched but I've been wrong before."

I know, it is tin foil hat time. I was told that was said in the meeting. Of course, it wouldn't be the first time someone at KU had delusions of grandeur.

But, back to consipiracy theory land:

how many people with ties to KU have either been an elected or appointed city or county official in, say, the last 15 years? How about the last five?

Wasn't it a KU prof "concerned citizen" whose brilliant idea caused the uproar over the cell phone ban?

What about the roundabouts? Wonder who provided the TSC with the research on how wonderful the rest of the world is because it has roundabouts?

Isn't it a KU prof county commissioner that is pushing to have the city and county purchase the Farmland acreage so that the government can dictate how the land is used, and isn't he pushing to restrict growth in the county? Wasn't he the one that was upset because Johnson County wanted to let eastern Douglas County homeowners tie into the JOCO Rural Water District?

Aren't the secound loudest opponents of the 32nd Street alignment KU faculty (first being Haskell people)?

Aren't there KU faculty members who are part of the Smart Growth movement?

In fact, every time local government officials seek free "expert advice," where do they turn?

Considering that KU faculty make up less 2% of the population of Lawrence, it seems that they certainly do have an inordinant amount of influence on the way our town is governed.

Somethin' to think about.....

Redzilla 12 years ago

I do think it's important to protect downtowns from blight, but you can see how easy it is to go overboard. Of course, high gas prices might soon level out the lure of driving elsewhere for cheaper prices.

i_have_only_valid_opinions 12 years ago

How is bringing in one or more of these large retailers going to create an 8%+ vacancy rate? The only way this is going to happen is if you build an entire shopping mall to accomodate Dillard's, Macy's, etc. and that pulls Abercrombie, Gap, et. al. out of downtown. That's probably the worst case scenario for a single event, but even that wouldn't push the vacancy rate to 8%. I don't want to see downtown go under by any means because I love our downtown. But even if these few stores were to relocate to an indoor shopping mall atmosphere, that just opens up the downtown area for other retailers. I know of two retailers that are just waiting to buy/lease the perfect space downtown when one opens up.

i_have_only_valid_opinions 12 years ago

With that said, I am also against the city growing uncontrollably. I don't want to see Lawrence get too big too fast. I don't think a blanket restriction works in situations like this though. I guess there are really no worries since there are few if any retailers that could come in and cause the 8% vacancy rate. I guess we're wasting time and resources here on something that isn't going to make a huge impact. Anything better to do? How about we take 8% of the police department and put them at the 8% of retailers (read: clubs) that cause 8% of the downtown crime and maybe cut down the out-of-town club frequenters by 8%.

Sigmund 12 years ago

Jamesaust, I have no idea how much time you put into your analysis (my guess is quite a bit), but it was excellent and well worth my time.

lunacydetector 12 years ago

FYI -tax abatements cannot apply towards retail.

...and reality check and bozo, i stand behind what i said, after all, the luny left is a huge part of the chamber of 'non'-commerce (you see, our local chamber goes counter to what the state chamber of commerce professes - like our local chamber has been a vocal advocate for tax increases both in property taxes AND sales taxes - something the state chamber of commerce is against). both the developers of each respective mall were from out of town, so i don't know where you get the 'developers were all for it.' it was a consensus deal on both malls - the lunatic fringe absolutely loved the ideas, and the lunatic fringe in the chamber absolutely loved the ideas as well. both went down in flames - just as anything else the lunatic fringe in town has supported.

Godot 12 years ago

The Legends is, after all, only 15 minutes away. No big deal.

KsTwister 12 years ago

Kind of late to tell Walmart Superstore no. I can believe they will be ready again with their attorneys. Give up---ain't gonna work. Back to your room and think this time. They cost us jobs and variety but give us their own empty Tanger Mall while telling CrackerBarrel and Red Lobster no. What a joke these guys are!

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