Zoning Practice — January 2006

Ask the Author

Here are reader questions answered by Jennifer Evans-Cowley, AICP, author of the December 2005 Zoning Practice article "Regulatory Strategies for Big Boxes."

Comment from Michelle M. Beesten, Senior Planner, Long-Range Planning Division, Forsyth County (Georgia) Department of Planning:

"Regulatory Strategies for Big Boxes," which appeared in the December 2005 issue of Zoning Practice mis-identifies a requirement in our code. Namely, Forsyth County has no demolition bond. The author apparently saw a draft version of our regulations last year, which required a demolition bond so that the "city" could tear down a structure if vacant. Not only do we not have a demolition bond, but the article failed to explore the adaptive re-use agreement we do require. The purpose of the proposed demolition bond was a mechanism of recourse in case resale/lease or a re-use agreement was not produced. It was never intended as an automatic option for vacant structures. We worked hard to get important elements of the big-box regulations passed: infrastructure requirements, location requirements, site design requirements, parking distribution incentives, porous material for excess parking, and architectural and landscaping requirements. We worked with stakeholders who held radically different views on the issue.

We invite your readers to review our code, found on our Current Planning webpage of the county's website. Visit it at www.forsythco.com.

Click here for a direct link. The affected codes are Chapter 12, Article XI and XII, along with Chapter 10-1.14.

Response from author Jennifer Evans-Cowley:

Thank you so much for your clarification of the Forsyth County ordinance. The ordinance will be discussed in much greater detail as part of the forthcoming Planning Advisory Service Report on Big Box Retail. This will include a discussion of the re-use agreement. Ideally, a big box building will be re-used.

Forsyth County is to be commended for working with the stakeholders in your community to put together an innovative ordinance that carefully addresses many of the issues unique to big box retailers, especially related to the reuse of stores.

Question from Joseph W. McManus, AICP, Zoning Consultant, Miami-Dade County Department of Planning & Zoning:

My question is about the amount of required off-street parking of the entire site that is allowed between the front facade of the principal building and the primary abutting street (in our terms "front building line and front property line"). We are proposing in our zoning code rewrite that "no more than 2 tiers of off-street parking shall be located between the front building line and the front property line." The interpretation of 2 tiers is 4 rows of parking.

Interestingly, one of the local land-use law firms has cited the following provision from the Fort Collins, Colorado, ordinance in proposing a modification: "no more than 60 percent of the off-street parking area for the entire property shall be located between the front facade within the front yard of the principal building(s) and the primary abutting street unless the principal building(s) and/or parking lots are screened from view by outlot development (such as restaurants) and additional tree plantings and/or berms."

Your report "Regulatory Strategies for Big Boxes" cites a different percentage from the same ordinance: "Fort Collins, Colorado ... No more than 50 percent of the off-street parking area for the entire property shall be located between the front facade of the principal building and the primary abutting street. The city also places a cap on parking equal to 125 percent of the city's minimum parking requirement."

Please comment on the practicality of our proposed "2 tier" restriction versus the "overall percentage restriction" and whether you consider either the 2-tier restriction or 50 percent restriction as being too restrictive for a developer to meet.

Answer from author Jennifer Evans-Cowley:

I would have some concern about the 2-tier approach. While I like the idea of limiting the amount of parking in front, I think this would in large part depend on the orientation of the building, building width, etc. For some, it might be completely acceptable if the building is oriented inward to the site, but if the store is facing the street and has only two tiers of parking, it might be quite difficult on a site. If the building is covering the majority of the lot width then parking in front may be the only viable option. The bigger problem I would see with this approach is that many big boxes are in shopping centers, and this parking arrangement may pose problems.

One alternative option might be to state two tiers of parking (you would need to clearly define what a tier is) or 50, 60, or 70 percent — whatever your community believes will work, and whichever is greater. Or perhaps you could consider providing development bonuses for those that comply with the two tiers or less.