Dollar Store Restriction — Birmingham, Ala.

Birmingham, Ala. is one of the largest cities yet to pass a dollar store dispersal restriction. The city did this in coordination with a concerted effort to combat food deserts, which Birmingham’s Mayor had found included nearly 70 percent of Birmingham residents. Birmingham created a “Healthy Food Overlay District,” which includes the majority of the city’s footprint. The City prohibited new dollar stores from locating within one mile of existing ones. The also city loosened restrictions for traditional, full-service grocery stores, community gardens, and mobile solutions like food trucks and mobile groceries.

A separate piece of legislation created a Healthy Food Fund. The fund adds $500,000 to the City’s Neighborhood Revitalization Fund, targeted to defraying startup costs for grocers.

The zoning ordinance defines several key terms, like “Small Box Discount store,” “Grocery Store,” and “Convenience Retail Store.” The ordinance then creates a dispersal restriction by requiring a “a new small box discount store within the Healthy Food Overlay District shall not be closer than 1 mile (5,280 feet) from another existing small box discount store located in the Healthy Food Overlay District.” It then relaxes regulations on grocery stores (a 50 percent reduction in the number of required parking spots, more allowable square footage) and community gardens (allowing on-site sale of produce).

The full language of the zoning ordinance can be found below.

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Below we have excerpted the relevant zoning ordinance language adopted by the City of Birmingham, July 9, 2019. The City Council’s minutes are available here. The Overlay District and associated amendments are Item 1 in the minutes. The full text of the City’s Zoning Ordinance can be found here.


Title 1 – Zoning Ordinance

Chapter 8: Overlay Districts

Article V. Healthy Food Overlay District Regulations

 

Section 1. Administration.

A. Intent and Purpose.

The intent of this Article is to establish a Healthy Food Overlay District for the City of Birmingham. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has identified low-income census tracts where a significant number (at least 500 people) or share (at least 33 percent) of the population is greater than 1⁄2 mile from the nearest supermarket, supercenter, or large grocery store for an urban area or greater than 10 miles for a rural area. These areas are known as food deserts.

The purpose of this Overlay District is to modify existing regulations to allow for more diverse retail options and convenient access to fresh meats, fruits and vegetables. These regulations are intended to:

1. Limit over-concentration of small box discount stores within the Overlay District.
2. Encourage a greater diversity of retail options within the Overlay District.
3. Promote a community-based approach for access to fresh meats, fruits and vegetables.

B. Applicability.

Except as otherwise stated, the regulations of this section apply to all new uses and structures within the boundaries of the Healthy Food Overlay District. And a 1⁄2 mile buffer on either side of the Healthy Food Overlay District boundaries. The Healthy Food Overlay District boundaries are mapped using the low income/low access census tract data identified as food deserts by the USDA. The map titled “Healthy Food Overlay District Including 0.5 Mile Buffer” shows those properties in the City of Birmingham that are included in the Healthy Food Overlay District.

Section 2. Definitions.

The following terms shall have the meaning provided herein. Terms not defined herein shall have the meaning provided in the City of Birmingham Zoning Ordinance and/or City Subdivision Regulations.

Grocery Store: Retail store that provides assorted goods for sale, including but not limited to, food, beverages and personal health items. A minimum of 25% of sales floor area or more than 3,000 square feet of sales floor area dedicated to the sale of fresh or pre-packaged meats, fruits, vegetables, and dairy, whichever is greater. Accessory uses may include restaurants, dining areas, and pharmacies.

Small Box Discount Store: Retail store that provides assorted, inexpensive items that are continuously offered at a discounted price that is usually under $10 per item. Products sold typically include processed food and drink items, personal hygiene products, office supplies and decorations. Gross floor area is typically less than 12,000 square feet. Does not include convenience retail stores.

Convenience Retail Store: Retail store that provides assorted or specialty goods for sale, including food and beverages for off-premise consumption and personal health items. Typical uses include bakeries, convenience stores, drug stores, specialty food stores, gift shops, newsstands or florists. Small box discount stores are not included.

Section 3. Regulations

A. Small Box Discount Stores

1. To avoid over-concentration, a new small box discount store within the Healthy Food Overlay District shall not be closer than 1 mile (5,280 feet) from another existing small box discount store located in the Healthy Food Overlay District. The required separation distance must be measured in a straight line from the nearest point on the lot line of the property to the nearest point on the lot line of the other property.

  1. Grocery Stores. Any new grocery store constructed within the Healthy Food Overlay is subject to the following:
    1. In C-1 and MU-L zoning districts, a new grocery store may have up to 20,000 square feet of gross floor area.
    2. A parking reduction of up to 50% is available for any new grocery store.
  2. Community Gardens. On-site sale of produce is allowed in the following districts: D-1, D-2, D-3, D-4, D-5, D-6, MU-L, MU-M, MU-H, MU-D, C-1, C-2, I-1, I-2, I-3, and MXD when a community garden is located in the Healthy Food Overlay District (see Title 1, Chapter 4, Article II, Section 8.A).

Section 4. Legal Non-conforming

Any existing use legally established prior to the effective date of this Ordinance that does not comply with its provisions shall be subject to the regulations of the nonconforming provisions of this Ordinance stipulated in of Chapter 9, Article VII.


Charlie Thaxton
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Charlie Thaxton

Charlie Thaxton is a researcher with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Community-Scaled Economy Initiative. He studies local economies, small businesses, civics, and their connection to social capital and wellness.