Economic Impact Review and Size Cap – Homer, AK

In 2004, after two years of consideration — including a review by a city council-appointed task force, numerous public hearings, and a voter referendum — the city of Homer capped retail stores at no more than 25,000 or 45,000 square feet (depending on the area of town).

Later, a ballot initiative allowing stores of up to 66,000 square feet was narrowly approved by voters, but invalidated by the Alaska Supreme Court, which ruled in 2008 that zoning laws must go through local planning commissions and may not be changed piecemeal by voters. Then, in 2008, the city raised the cap in most districts to 75,000 square feet.

Proposed retail developments under 75,000 square feet, but larger than 15,000 square feet, are required to undergo a community impact review and obtain a conditional use permit. “Large retail and wholesale development can result in substantial impacts to the community, such as, but not limited to, noise, traffic, community character, environment, and the local economy,” the ordinance notes. “The purpose of this section is to address these impacts and provide for detailed review of such uses.”

In addition to traffic, site design, and architectural requirements, the impact review considers the proposed store’s impact on employment and wages; the cost of municipal services; and the health of the downtown. It also weighs any change in the volume of “locally retained profits” resulting from the development and its impact on existing businesses.

The cost of all independent studies and investigations required to complete the review are to be paid by the developer.

The section of Homer’s zoning code dealing with the impact review is included below. The size restrictions can be found under each individual commercial zone (sections 21.48, 21.49, and 21.50) in Title 21 of Homer’s city code.

21.61.105 Requirements for large retail and wholesale development more than 15,000 square feet in area. This section applies to development that includes buildings of 15,000 square feet of building area that contain retail or wholesale uses when a conditional use permit is required pursuant to other provisions of HCC Title 21.

a. Purpose. The intent of this section is to insure that large retail and wholesale development is of a quality that enhances the character of Homer, and does not overwhelm its surroundings, and protects and contributes to the health, safety and welfare of the community.  Large retail and wholesale development can result in substantial impacts to the community, such as, but not limited to, noise, traffic, community character, environment, and the local economy.  The purpose of this section is to address these impacts and provide for detailed review of such uses.

These requirements are intended to be used for evaluating and assessing the quality and design of proposed large retail and wholesale developments.  Where these requirements conflict with other provisions of this title, the more restrictive regulations shall apply.  These requirements are in addition and complementary to the General conditions of HCC §21.61.020.

b. Pre-application Conference.  Prior to submitting a completed application, the applicant will meet with the City Planner or designee to discuss the conditional use permit process and any issues that may affect the proposed conditional use. It is the intent of this section to provide for an exchange of general and preliminary information only and no statement by either the applicant or the City staff shall be regarded as binding or authoritative for purposes of this title.

c.Application.  An application to the Commission for a conditional use permit or modification of an existing conditional use may be initiated by a property owner or the owner’s authorized agent. An application for a conditional use permit shall be filed with the City Planner on a form provided by the Planning Department.

The application for a conditional use permit for a large retail and/or wholesale development shall be accompanied by the appropriate filing fees as established by resolution of the City Council, payable to the City.

The City Manager will determine if the application is complete and shall advise the applicant if the application is acceptable, and if not, what corrective actions may be taken.

The cost of all studies and investigations required under this Section shall be borne by the applicant.

d.Site Plan.  A detailed site plan drawn to scale showing the location of setbacks, easements, all existing and proposed buildings and structures, access points, buffering, vehicular and pedestrian circulation patterns, parking, loading and delivery areas, mechanical equipment, drainage, landscaping, and the specific location of the use or uses of the development, elevation plans of all proposed structures, and other information necessary to establish that the requirements will be met, shall be submitted with the application. Site design shall utilize the natural features and topography of the individual site to the maximum extent possible.

e. Traffic Impact Analysis.  The conditional use permit application shall include a traffic impact analysis if required in the applicable zoning district.

f.Community and Economic Impact.  The conditional use permit application shall include a Community and Economic Impact Analysis and proposed mitigation. The purpose of assessing community and economic impact is to evaluate the projected benefits and costs to the public and private sectors of the community from the project, and to prescribe mitigation measures, if needed.

1. The proposed project shall not have a significant adverse impact to the City in terms of balancing as near as possible the cost of public services and public revenue provided through taxes and other income.

2. The project shall be designed to minimize negative impacts to adjoining property values.

3. The developer shall demonstrate the financial ability to complete the project and to achieve long-term financial stability.

g. Parking lots and parking structures may not visually dominate Homer’s urban setting and should enhance the City’s aesthetic qualities and natural surroundings.  Parking facilities shall be designed and landscaped with increased emphasis on pedestrian ways that provide public connectivity to and through the site.  The visual impacts of parking lots shall be mitigated though measures such as landscaping, screening, or situating parking areas away from the front of buildings adjacent to arterials.

h. Landscaping is required in order to improve the aesthetic quality of the built environment, promote retention and protection of existing vegetation, reduce the impacts of development on the natural environment, enhance the value of current and future development and increase privacy for residential zones. A landscaping plan shall provide for landscaping that minimizes visual, sound, and other negative impacts. The materials selected shall be compatible with the climate, planting location, and landscaping function.  The landscaping plan shall include the retention of mature natural vegetation to the greatest extent possible.

i.Citizen Participation Meetings.  The conditional use permit application shall include a Citizen Participation Meetings report.  The purpose of the citizen participation meetings is to ensure that developers pursue early and effective citizen participation in conjunction with their development, giving them the opportunity to understand and try to mitigate any real or perceived impacts their development may have on the community; and to ensure that the citizens and property owners have an adequate opportunity to learn about applications for conditional use permits that may affect them and to work with developers to resolve concerns at an early stage of the process; and to facilitate ongoing communication between the developer, interested citizens and property owners, City staff, and elected officials throughout the application review process. A minimum of two Citizen Participation Meetings shall consist of a detailed description of the project and shall address the following items:  access, parking, landscaping, general style and architectural finish, signage, grades and other site improvements. During the meetings with the public, the developer shall have available for review all conceptual drawing(s) in standard architectural format illustrating the items above. This material will be filed with the Planning Department, and made available for inspection by the public.

j.A Development Activity Plan (DAP) shall be submitted with the conditional use permit application if required by the applicable zoning district.

k. A Stormwater Protection Plan shall be submitted with the conditional use permit application if required by in the applicable zoning district.

l. Standards.  The following standards are applicable to all conditional use permit applications under HCC § 21.61.105.

1. Traffic.  As required by HCC §21.61.110.

2. Community and Economic Impact Analysis.  At a minimum the community and economic impact analysis shall include, based on a horizon year of 10 years, the following:

a.  The estimated net impacts to local employment, wages and salaries, retained profits, property taxes, and sales taxes.

b. The estimated net impacts of increased local consumer spending and savings.

c. The change in the estimated number of employees, employment types, and estimated wages generated by the project.

d. The change in locally retained profits.

e. The net change in sales tax and property tax base and revenues, including any changes in overall land values.

f. The projected net costs to the City arising from increased demand for and required improvements to public services and infrastructure.

g. The value of improvements to public services and infrastructure to be provided by the project.

h.  The impacts (including displacement of existing retailers) on the business district.

i. The impact on the City’s Insurance Services Office (ISO) rating.

3. Citizen Participation Meeting. At a minimum, the citizen participation meetings report shall include the following information:

a.  Details of techniques the applicant used to involve the public, including:

i. Date and location of a minimum of two meetings where invited citizens discussed the developer’s proposal;

ii. Content, dates mailed, and numbers of mailings, including letters, meeting notices, newsletters and other publications;

iii. Location and date of meeting advertisements; i.e. notice posting locations within Homer, newspaper publishing dates;

iv. Mailing list of residents, property owners, and interested parties receiving notices, newsletters, or other written materials, and proof of advertisements and other notices; and

v. The number of people that participated in the process.

b. A summary of concerns, issues and problems expressed during the process, including:

i. The substance of the concerns, issues, and problems; and

ii. How the applicant has addressed or intends to address concerns, issues and problems expressed during the process; and

iii. Concerns, issues and problems the applicant is unwilling or unable to address and why.

4.  Signs. As required by HCC Chapter 21.60.

5.  Parking.

a.  Parking lots for large retail and wholesale development shall not exceed the minimum number of spaces required  by HCC Chapter 7.12 by more than 10 percent.

b.  All parking areas will be posted ‘No Overnight Camping Permitted’ as required by HCC §19.08.030.

c.  Where practical no more than 50 percent of the required parking area for the development shall be located between the front facade of the building and the abutting streets or adjacent to arterials.

6.  Pedestrian access. Sufficient accessibility, safety and convenience to pedestrians shall be provided. Unobstructed sidewalks shall link the site to existing public pedestrian facilities, including but not limited to sidewalks and trails.  Sidewalks shall be provided along the full length of any structure where it abuts a parking lot.

7.  Landscaping.

a.  Landscaping shall not be less than 15 percent of the total lot area and shall include the retention of existing native vegetation to the maximum extent possible.  The coverage of shrubs, trees and hedges shall be measured from their drip lines.

i.  Buffers:

1. 3 feet minimum width along all lot lines where setbacks permit;

2. 10 feet minimum width adjacent to rights-of-way, except alleys, and in parking lots of more than 30 spaces;

ii.  Dividers and Islands:

1.  10 percent of the lot area of parking lots with more than 24 spaces;

2.  Installed after 12 contiguous spaces in parking lots with more than 24 spaces.

b.  General landscaping shall be additionally provided as needed to achieve the minimum required landscape coverage.

c.  Required landscaping shall be limited to the following materials:

i.   Living ground cover;

ii. Permeable, continuous non -living ground cover;

iii. Living plant life other than ground cover;

iv.  Retained native vegetation;

v.   Natural or man-made features, including but not limited to, boulders and planters;

vi.  Pedestrian ways;

vii. Public spaces.

d.  Separate sections of landscaping shall be composed of the required materials in any combination as follows:

i.  Living plant life other than ground cover or natural vegetation shall have  minimum coverage of 5 percent;

ii.  Living ground cover shall have a maximum coverage of 80 percent;

iii.  Permeable non-living ground cover shall have a maximum coverage of 10 percent;

iv.  Natural or man-made features shall have a maximum coverage of 10 percent;

v.  Pedestrian ways or public spaces shall have a maximum coverage of 50 percent.

e.  Topsoil addition, final grading, seeding, and all planting of flora must be complete within nine months of occupancy, or within the first growing season after occupancy, whichever comes first. Required landscaping will be maintained thereafter, with all shrubs, trees, and groundcover being replaced as needed.

8.  Buffers.  The Commission may require buffers, including berms, fences, trees and shrubs, to minimize impacts to adjacent property. A landscaped buffer, or combination of landscaping and berms of no less than 10 feet in width will be required where the development adjoins residential zones.

9.  Lighting.  As required by individual zoning districts.

10. Loading and Delivery.  Loading and delivery operations shall be designed and located to mitigate visual and noise impacts to adjacent residentially zoned areas.  The delivery and loading areas will also be screened so they are not visible from public streets, sidewalks, and adjacent properties. The Commission may limit hours of delivery and loading as necessary to reduce the effects of noise and traffic on surrounding residential zones.  A landscaped buffer may be required when delivery and loading areas are adjacent to residentially zoned areas. The landscaped buffer will include mixed vegetation adequate to provide noise, light and visual screening.  Commercial vehicles, trailers, shipping containers and similar equipment used for transporting merchandise shall remain on the premises only as long as required for loading and unloading operations, and shall not be maintained on the premises for storage purposes unless it is screened from public view.

11. Building and Aesthetics.  The intent of these standards is to establish minimum requirements to protect public health, safety and welfare and to help create an attractive facade by reducing the mass of large buildings, creating structures in scale with existing development, and creating a pedestrian friendly environment, while recognizing that buildings for certain uses may not be able to meet these goals.  In such instances, the Commission may allow increased landscaping and proper siting may be utilized to mitigate the perceived mass and visual impacts of the large building.

a.  If a building facade exceeds 60 feet in length, it shall be broken down into smaller elements by jogging the wall in or out a minimum of four feet for at least ten feet in length, or by adding an element such as a porch, recessed entry, bay window, projecting trellis or similar substantial architectural feature at intervals so that no continuous wall plane is more than 60 feet in length.

b.  The portion of the building within public view shall incorporate human-scale elements such as windows, arcades, lower roof overhangs, awnings, or architectural features.

c.  The design shall provide architectural features that contribute to visual interest at the pedestrian scale and reduce the massive scale effect by breaking up the building wall, front, side, or rear, with color, texture change, and repeating wall offsets, reveals, or projecting ribs.

d.  The roof design shall provide variations in roof lines and heights to add interest to, and reduce the massive scale of large buildings.  Parapet walls shall be architecturally treated to avoid a plain monotonous style.

e.  Entryways shall be designed to orient customers and add aesthetically pleasing character to buildings by providing inviting customer entrances that are protected from the weather. Each entrance shall be clearly defined and highly visible.

f.  The buildings shall have exterior building materials and colors which are aesthetically pleasing and compatible with the overall development plan. Construction material shall provide color, texture and scale.

g.  Public Spaces. No less than 5 percent of the floor area shall be dedicated to interior or exterior public spaces.

12.  Screening of Mechanical Equipment.  Roof or ground mechanical equipment shall be screened to mitigate noise and views in all directions. If roof equipment is mounted, the screen shall be designed to conform architecturally with the design of the building. Screening of ground mounted mechanical equipment shall be of such material and be of sufficient height to block the view and noise of the equipment.

13.  Utilities.  All utilities, including but not limited to, all wire or cable facilities, including but not limited to electric power, telephone and CATV cables, providing permanent service, shall be located underground.  The Commission may grant exceptions pursuant to HCC §22.10.055(d) and (e).

14.  Snow Storage.  A snow storage plan, as a component of the site plan, is required.  Use of sidewalks and required parking areas for snow storage is prohibited.  Snow storage within 25 feet of stream banks is prohibited.  Use of landscaped areas for snow storage may be allowed under the approved snow storage plan. The Commission may impose such restrictions on snow removal operations as are necessary to reduce the effects of noise or traffic on surrounding areas.

15.  Outdoor Sales and Storage.  Areas for outdoor sales of products may be permitted if they are extensions of the sales floor into which patrons are allowed free access. Such areas shall be incorporated into the overall design of the building and landscaping.  The areas shall be permanently defined and screened with walls and/or fences. Materials, colors and design of screening walls/fences and their covers shall be complementary to those of the primary structure. These outdoor sales and storage areas shall be considered as part of the gross floor area of the establishment. Outdoor storage must be screened from view from adjacent streets and parcels, and must be more than 40 feet from a building. Such outdoor storage, whether covered or not covered, shall not be counted as part of the floor area of the building.

16. Trash and Recycling Collection.  Noise and visual impacts of trash and recycling collection on adjoining properties and streets shall be mitigated.  Trash and recycling collection areas shall be located at least 50 feet from adjacent residential uses or zones and public streets, unless enclosed within a structure.  Unenclosed trash and recycling collection areas shall not be visible from public streets, sidewalks, trails, internal pedestrian walkways, or adjacent properties. (Ord. 04-38(A)§§ 7, 9, 2004; Ord. 04-11(A) §8, 2004.)

Avatar photo
Follow Stacy Mitchell:
Stacy Mitchell

Stacy Mitchell is co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and directs its Independent Business Initiative, which produces research and designs policy to counter concentrated corporate power and strengthen local economies.