In April 2018, the city council of Tulsa, Okla., passed an ordinance to create a Healthy Neighborhoods Overlay amendment to the city’s zoning code. This permanent policy change restricts the dispersal of new dollar stores or small-box discount retailers in north Tulsa, a predominantly African-American area on the city’s north side. The measure was signed by Tulsa’s mayor shortly after its passage by city council (with a vote of 5-2, with two councilors absent) and subsequently adopted as part of the Tulsa Zoning Code.
Tulsa City Council member Vanessa Hall-Harper, who helped develop the ordinance, explained how the rule addresses both a “proliferation of dollar stores” by addressing their density and a lack of healthy food options in the north Tulsa community by supporting full-service grocery stores that offer a variety of fresh food.
Key Details in Tulsa’s Dollar Store Dispersal Restriction
Tulsa’s Healthy Neighborhoods Overlay policy seeks to foster a “greater diversity in retail options and convenient access to fresh meats, fruits and vegetables,” while simultaneously addressing the overabundance of chain dollar stores in north Tulsa.
While commonly known as dollar stores, small-box discount retailers are defined in Tulsa’s policy as stores with “retail sales uses with floor area less than 12,000 square feet that offer for sale a combination and variety of convenience shopping goods and consumer shopping goods; and continuously offer a majority of the items in their inventory for sale at a price less than $10.00 per item.”
The policy limits the density of dollar store development within a defined overlay district in Tulsa. It creates a “dispersal standard” requiring new new small-box discount store development to satisfy a minimum 5,280 feet (one-mile) straight-line distance between it and and any existing dollar store in the defined overlay district. The policy does not restrict dollar store development city-wide, but instead prioritizes an overlay district that corresponds to a USDA-identified food desert. This area roughly spans three major, contiguous neighborhoods of north Tulsa: Greenwood (Unity) Heritage, Crutchfield, and the 36th Street North corridor.
In addition to the dispersal requirement, Tulsa’s policy also codifies off-street parking requirements for new small-box discount and grocery store developments. As an incentive to stores that sell fresh meat and produce, parking requirements are reduced by 50 percent for any grocery store that opens in the overlay district.
Additional Context in Tulsa’s Passage of a Dollar Store Dispersal Restriction
The Healthy Neighborhoods Overlay policy grew out of earlier, community-driven efforts to restrict rapid dollar store development in Tulsa. Before passing the permanent overlay policy, Tulsa City Council implemented a moratorium on new small-box discount store development in September 2017, for a period lasting six months (180 days). Designed as a temporary restriction on the acceptance, processing, and issuance of building permits for small-box discount stores on properties within the same north Tulsa area, this moratorium gave the city time to explore more permanent policy solutions. During this period, the city held hearings and sought public comments to better understand community perspectives and weigh its options.
Extensive research underpinned the development of both Tulsa’s dollar store moratorium and Healthy Neighborhoods Overlay. With assistance from Tulsa’s regional planning agency the Indian Nations Council of Governments, Hall-Harper helped draft language for both policies. She cited finding inspiration from both ILSR policy tools and other communities that have passed restrictions on formula businesses.
Examples in Other Cities
Following the success of Tulsa’s dollar store dispersal restriction policy, other cities have taken note and explored similar strategies to address the growth of small-box discount retailers. For example, the city of Mesquite, Texas, adopted a dollar store dispersal ordinance in July 2018 that addresses the city’s high concentration of these chain stores — or, what Mesquite’s policy defines as “variety stores” — and seeks to improve residents’ access to fresh food. In addition, New Orleans City Council passed a motion in June 2018 that commissioned a study of the citywide impacts of dollar stores, subsequently holding a public hearing and inviting public comments on the issue. These efforts will help assess whether limits on the density of dollar stores in New Orleans are needed.
City of Tulsa’s Dollar Store Dispersal Restriction
The city of Tulsa’s permanent Healthy Neighborhood Overlay took effect on April 16, 2018. For an example of language used in Tulsa’s dollar store dispersal restriction, a link to the adopted ordinance (City of Tulsa, Code of Ordinances) and applicable excerpts from the Tulsa Zoning Code, follow.
Ordinance Number 23904 — Healthy Neighborhoods Overlay Amendment
This document provides the ordinance language as passed and approved by both Tulsa City Council and City of Tulsa Mayor G. T. Bynum, in April 2018.
CHAPTER 20 (OVERLAY DISTRICTS) SECTION 060 — Healthy Neighborhoods Overlay (HNO)
This document and the excerpts that follow outline the final, permanent zoning policy adopted by the city of Tulsa, Okla., to address the density of dollar stores in an overlay area of north Tulsa.
Purpose and Intent
The regulations of this section are established for properties located within the boundaries of the healthy neighborhoods overlay (HNO) district. The purpose of the healthy neighborhoods overlay (HNO) is to modify and supplement regulations in a specified area where there is a desire for greater diversity in retail options and convenient access to fresh meats, fruits and vegetables. These regulations are intended to:
- Avoid and reduce over-concentration of small box discount stores in the area.
- Encourage and streamline grassroots access to fresh meats, fruits and vegetables
- Encourage a greater diversity of retail activity and purchasing options within the area.
- Allow for a more community-based approach to distributing and purchasing fresh meats, fruits and vegetables in a specified area.
- Promote investment and development in a community where change is desired.
20.060-B | Applicability
Except as otherwise expressly stated, the regulations of this section apply within the boundaries of the HNO district to all new uses and structures and all building alterations and site modifications that require a building permit.
20.060-C | Exemptions
- Uses that contain a prescription pharmacy or offer for sale gasoline or diesel fuel are exempt from the dispersal standards established in Section 20.060-D.
- Uses that dedicate a minimum floor area of 500 square feet to the sale of fresh meat, fruits or vegetables are exempt from the dispersal standards established in Section 20.060-D.
- Grocery Stores are exempt from the dispersal standards established in Section 20.060-D..
20.060-C | Dispersal Standards for Small Box Discount Stores
To avoid over-concentration, a small box discount store, as defined in Section 35.050-L4, within the overlay area must be separated from another small box discount store within or outside the overlay area by a minimum distance of 5,280 feet. The required separation distance must be measured in a straight line from the nearest point on the lot line of the property occupied by a small box discount store to the nearest point on a lot line of the other property occupied by a small box discount store. The separation distance requirements of this section may be reduced if approved through the special exception approval process.
20.060-D | Community Gardens
Community gardens within the boundaries of the HNO district are governed by the regulations of Section 40.090, unless expressly stated by this section. On-site sale of community garden products is permitted by right in all zoning districts within the boundaries of the HNO district.
20.060-E | Grocery Store
The minimum parking ratios established in Section 55.020, Table 55-1 for a Grocery Store use are reduced by 50% in the HNO district.
20.060-F | Nonconformities
Nonconformities that exist within the HNO district are governed by the regulations of Chapter 80.
Additional Sections, Referenced Above
SECTION 35.050 | Commercial Use Category (Chapter 35 | Building Types and Use Categories)
35.050-L | Retail Sales
Uses involving the sale, lease or rental of new or used goods to the ultimate consumer. Specific retail use types include the following:
- Convenience Goods
Retail sales uses that sell or otherwise provide (1) sundry goods; (2) products for personal grooming and for the day-to-day maintenance of personal health or (3) food or beverages for off-premise consumption, retail bakeries and similar uses that provide incidental and accessory food and beverage service as part of their primary retail sales business. Typical uses include convenience stores, drug stores, specialty food stores, wine or liquor stores, gift shops, newsstands, florists and tobacco stores. Does not include small box discount stores or grocery stores.
- Consumer Shopping Goods
Retail sales uses that sell or otherwise provide wearing apparel, fashion accessories, furniture, household appliances and similar consumer goods, large and small, functional and decorative, for use, entertainment, comfort or aesthetics. Typical uses include clothing stores, department stores, appliance stores, TV and electronics stores, bike shops, book stores, costume rental stores, stationery stores, art galleries, hobby shops, furniture stores, pet stores and pet supply stores, shoe stores, antique shops, secondhand stores, record stores, toy stores, sporting goods stores, variety stores, video stores, musical instrument stores, medical supplies, office supplies and office furnishing stores and wig shops. Does not include small box discount stores or grocery stores.
- Building Supplies and Equipment
Retail sales uses that sell or otherwise provide goods to repair, maintain or visually enhance a structure or premises. Typical uses include hardware stores, home improvement stores, paint and wallpaper supply stores and garden supply stores.
- Small Box Discount Store
Retail sales uses with floor area less than 12,000 square feet that offer for sale a combination and variety of convenience shopping goods and consumer shopping goods; and continuously offer a majority of the items in their inventory for sale at a price less than $10.00 per item.
- Grocery Store
Retail sales uses that sell or otherwise provide assorted goods; products for personal grooming and for the day-to-day maintenance of personal health; and that sell food and beverages for off-premise consumption; and that have a minimum floor area of 500 square feet dedicated to the sale of fresh meat, fruits and vegetables. A principal use Grocery Store may include an accessory use restaurant or dining area for on-premise consumption of food and beverage items.
Section 40.090 | Community Garden (Chapter 40 | Supplemental Use and Building Regulations)
The supplemental use regulations of this section apply to all community garden uses.
Unless permitted by the underlying zoning district or approved as a special exception, on-site sale of community garden products is prohibited.
Lawn and garden equipment of the type customarily used by consumers for household lawn and garden care is the only type of motorized equipment allowed. The use of motorized equipment is restricted to hours beginning at 8:00 a.m. and ending at 8:00 p.m.
The site must be designed and maintained to prevent any chemical pesticide, fertilizer or other garden waste from draining on to adjacent properties.
An on-site trash storage container must be provided and located as close as practicable to the rear lot line. Compost bins or piles must also be located as close as practicable to the rear lot line. Trash must be removed from the site at least once a week.
Only individuals and organizations authorized by the property owner may participate in the community garden.
A sign must be posted on the property identifying the name and phone number of the property owner or the owner’s agent name. The sign must be at least 4 and no more than 8 square feet in area and be posted so that it is legible from the public right-of-way.
The owner of any lot used for a community garden must give each abutting property owner and occupant written notice of the intent to establish a community garden and the applicable use regulations of this zoning code at least 30 days before the start of the community garden.
Measures must be taken to prevent cultivated areas from encroaching onto adjacent properties.
The property must be maintained free of tall weeds and debris. Dead garden plants must be regularly removed and, in any instance, no later than October 31 of each year.
Within a residential zoning district, operating hours for community garden activities are restricted to between 5:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m. daily.
Any community garden use regulation of this section may be modified by special exception approval.
Section 55.020 | Minimum Parking Ratios (Chapter 55 | Parking)
Off-street motor vehicle parking spaces must be provided in accordance with the minimum ratios established in Table 55-1. See Section 55.050 for an explanation of exemptions and allowed reductions of minimum motor vehicle parking requirements. See Section 55.060 for additional information about bicycle parking requirements.
This is an excerpt of relevant sections of the Healthy Neighborhood Overlay policy from City of Tulsa Zoning Code (published 2018). Full Zoning Code text is available here. Additional information about this policy and original text are available from the City of Tulsa Code of Ordinances, Ordinance Number 23904, outlining the zoning code amendments as passed and signed into law in April 2018.
Read more about dollar stores, and Tulsa’s efforts to check their spread in our featured article. See a shorter version of the dollar store story, plus actions you and your local government can take in our fact sheet.