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August 11 , 2004

Dallas may put a lid on

August 11th, 2004 - Moratorium weighed to gauge retailers' effect on neighborhoods By EMILY RAMSHAW Waiting for Wal-Mart? Hoping for Home Depot? If City Council members put a moratorium on all retail development of more than 100,000 square feet, it could be months before Dallas gets another "big box" store. Supporters say the resolution – up for approval today – would address neighborhood concerns and create zoning and design standards for the megastores. But property brokers say the move could put the brakes on Dallas' retail revival. "Retail is doing very well right now – our backbone," said Jill Tiernan, senior vice president of the Retail Connection, a real estate brokerage firm. "Goodness gracious, why would you stop that?" Faced with restrictions in Dallas, big national retailers would just head farther out, she said. "This will just push more development to the suburbs," Ms. Tiernan said. Council member Mitchell Rasansky, who proposed the 120-day moratorium, said no amount of economic development can offset a decline in residents' quality of life. He said the superstores plop down, leave their doors open 24 hours and disrupt the flow of traffic in surrounding communities. "Neighbors have asked for this all across the United States," Mr. Rasansky said. "We need to look at what types of restrictions we can put on ... [the stores]." Dallas Mayor Laura Miller said she supports the moratorium. If big box businesses are interested in coming to Dallas over the next 120 days, she said, they can be considered on a case-by-case basis. "We seem to have a pattern of giant retailers coming into densely populated neighborhoods," Ms. Miller said. "We need some type of criteria. We need citywide standards." Council member Veletta Forsythe Lill said the City Plan Commission tried to create an ordinance governing these stores three years ago. But the proposal never advanced. Ms. Lill said that during the proposed 120-day moratorium, the city could determine zoning requirements and design rules to better integrate big box businesses into Dallas' communities. "It simply means we will be stabilizing the environment to have a discussion," she said. Council members have been talking about a possible moratorium since the June 24 council meeting, when representatives from a development project near Central Expressway and Northwest Highway came to speak about their plans. Ms. Miller said there was concern that developers were considering putting a Wal-Mart on the 33.5-acre site across from NorthPark Center. Harvest Partners, the development company, has repeatedly said it would not include any retailers larger than 100,000 square feet on the site, which was purchased from businessman and art collector Ray Nasher. Developers with the company sent a letter to City Hall on Tuesday saying they support the moratorium. Mr. Rasansky said his proposal was not the result of a specific development project. He said it's a natural reaction to the increased interest that these types of businesses have shown in Dallas. Council member Sandy Greyson said Mr. Rasansky's proposal has found wide support among her colleagues. "We thought it was a good time to take a look at setback requirements and design standards," she said. "I think it sends a prudent message – that we're looking at how big box stores affect their neighbors." Council member Ed Oakley said he signed Mr. Rasansky's petition to put the item on the council agenda. But he said he has since changed his mind. "The message to retailers is, 'No, we don't want you here,' " Mr. Oakley said. "And we certainly need the tax base." With the economy starting to recover, "I think it's shortsighted and not in the best interest of our city," said Mark Hajdu of Henry S. Miller Commercial.
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