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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Technology May Have Trumped Public Dialogue on Formula Retail Curbs

• Pre-Programming of Workshop Options May Limit Public Ability to Initiate Major Municipal Policy Change

BY BILL KOENEKER

No one had to worry that they would not get a key pad polling device when about 55 individuals showed up at last week’s formula retail community meeting to engage in a somewhat different way for the planning staff to measure public opinion about the controversial issue.
Pete Peterson, the executive director of the Davenport Institute from Pepperdine University, was hired by the city’s planning department for $750 to  oversee the machinery used to tabulate 20 questions and a definition of community serving business.
All of the answers were immediately shared with the audience when the questions were asked and the results tabulated and shown on screens.
Peterson explained the polling is not scientific and there is no way of knowing if somebody is telling the truth. The polling is anonymous and considered a different way of engaging the public.
From the outset, Planning Director Joyce Parker Bozylinski said it was not a meeting about not having an ordinance since the council had already approved the framework for one.
Planner Joe Smith said the staff would prepare what he called the preamble for the ordinance and the description of what formula retail is.
Smith said they wanted to narrow down the findings to six and had already built a skeleton of ideas, but acknowledged, “the devil is in the details.”
“Now we want to hear from the public. What would you say?” asked Smith.
Peterson said a full report of the tabulations would be available at the end of this week. Municipal planners said those results would be posted on the city’s website as soon as they were made available.
Once the initial questions began folks already knew something about each other in the room. There were 72 percent that were polled, who indicated they were current residents of the city and 28 percent responded no.
They were asked how long they had been residents and if they currently owned, managed and/or worked at a business in the Civic Center. There were 66 percent that indicated they had nothing to do with a business and 34 percent that answered in the affirmative.
Then the 52 up to sometimes 57 respondents were asked retail formula questions such as how many stores “worldwide” would it take to  be considered a formula business.
There were 15 percent that noted three or more, with 23 percent considering five or more. There were 17 percent that indicated it would require 10 or more and 23 percent who described 13 or more as formula retail. The answer of “none of the above” was chosen by 23 percent.
Respondents almost always had a chance to register “none of the above” which usually garnered near 25 to 30 percent.
 It was noted, privately, by some in the audience that number was not far off from the percentage of respondents in the room who work, manage or own businesses in the Civic Center.
However, it was pointed out there could be respondents who were for a retail formula ordinance, but thought the choices did not reflect their criteria.
The audience was asked what they considered the most important criteria such as location of stores, width of the street chains were on, the gross square footage or the total number of formula stores in the shopping center. The majority answered the total number.
Then folks were asked what would be the criteria if the total number was eliminated as a choice. There were 72 percent that answered total square footage.
The next question dealt with what would be the total maximum percentage of formula businesses that would be considered an over-concentration.
Almost a third answered the smallest percentage 15 to 25 percent. A little less than a quarter of the respondents indicated it would require 51 to 65 percent.
If the planning commission considered as its criteria square footage what should be the maximum percentage allowed?
There were 37 percent who indicated the minimum offered of 1500 square feet, while 15 percent responded to 2500. Fewer respondents chose the option of 3500 to 5500 square feet.
Planners also wanted to know about a subjective finding such as what would be the most important criteria such as the business not impair rural character. There were 26 percent who responded to that criteria, while 46 percent indicated it was the proposed intensity. There were 23 percent that indicated “none of the above,” while five percent noted the business must be of itself non-intrusive and non-obstructive.
When the same question was asked, but the top choice in the previous question was eliminated, then 47 percent responded to rural character and 23 percent now responded to non-intrusive. There were 30 percent responding to “none of the above.”
When asked what would be the minimum square footage respondents would allow if a current formula business wanted to expand, 38 percent indicated the trigger would be no more than 250 square feet, another 18 percent recommended 500 square feet, while five percent indicated 1000 square feet and nine percent noted 1500 square feet. There were 23 percent that indicated “none of the above.”
The question was then asked if an existing formula store owner wanted to increase seating what would be the limits. There were 37 percent of the respondents that answered an increase of 10 percent seating would be the limit, while 30 percent indicated 25 percent. There were 12 percent that chose 50 percent and another 21 percent responded to “none of the above.”
Another question dealt with exemptions. Would respondents agree to the following exemptions: grocery, gasoline service stations, pharmacies, insurance, real estate, banks. Should all six be exempted? There were 56 percent of the respondents who said yes, while 44 percent answered no.
Planners wanted to know if there should be any kind of relief from the ordinance if a property owner could show they were unable to fill a specific tenant space after being denied a formula retail business a certain number of times.
There were 33 percent who said yes and 62 percent who responded no. Then respondents were asked if they answered yes, how many attempts could be offered to property owners. There were 38 percent that responded one, 23 percent that answered two, 12 percent indicated three and 27 percent that indicated four and 50 percent, who responded “none of the above.”
The next half of the session was taken up with creating a definition for community serving business.
The audience broke off into groups of seven or eight and was asked to sit next to others they might not know.
The groups discussed among themselves for some time and were given instructions to define community serving business in two or three words.
After doing so, the polling began again and everyone was able to vote on their top choices. Then the pollster kept removing the top choice for again another poll of the same definitions except the top choice of the previous poll.
The first poll included 10 items suggested by the groups such as businesses offering regular household goods, or providing convenience, necessities, the proximity to home, resident serving, daily use, local employment, community involvement, unique local character and affordable basic goods.
When the repeated polling was concluded, the top five remaining definitions were resident serving, unique local character, affordability, regular household use and community involvement.
Smith said they hoped to have a draft ordinance in front of the planning commission by Jan. 22 with the proposed measure going before the city council by Feb. 25.

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