Friday, October 7, 2011

Moratorium Creates Uncertainty and Less Business

The Tacoma Planning Commission has held a public hearing about a City of Tacoma moratorium on large retail development.  This has become repetitious.

The Chamber submitted this letter as its public comments to the Planning Commission, which must make a recommendation back to the City Council on their action.

As detailed below, the Chamber believes such arbitrary actions create uncertainty in the business environment, stifling development underway and sending a negative message to others who may be evaluating Tacoma for investment.


  1. Couldn't disagree more. Though there are plenty of rules and regulations already on the books here the developer was operating in secret hoping to pull a fast one over on the City Council re: medical complex versus Wal-Mart. This combined with city-wide concerns of the impact of such a predatory business, the last-minute reveal of the developers plans, and our City Council only being part time makes a moratorium a wise move by our council so they can take the proper time to consider all the aforementioned rules/regulations and social impact such big-box businesses present in Tacoma.

    I appreciate the Chamber pushing for more business and job creation but there's quality vs. quantity at play here. Sometimes "something" isn't better than "nothing" when it comes to businesses hoping to prey on Tacoma consumers. Though I want a prosperous local economy as much as the next person that doesn't mean we have to just say "yes" to any new business that wants to put up shop here. We can shape our city and set standards for what we want that Tacoma to be instead of the Frankenstein approach of most city's thoughtless development.

  2. Right on Kevin! You should be leader of the Chamber of Commerce! Why I could carve a better Chamber of Commerce out of a banana.

  3. these guys wanted Digital Billboards and MORE nasty clear channel monopoly spam!

  4. Kevin-

    Thanks for your comments. The question is not about if one retailer should or should not locate in the City. Rather the question is whether an emergency exists due to a failure of the regulations. The existing regulations are the result of extensive community planning and a state regulatory system that more comprehensively considers potential impacts than many other jurisdictions.

    The Chamber does not believe there is an emergency and feels the impacts of the moratorium go well beyond just one business. Since the moratorium limits the ability of small & large as well as retail & non-retail to stay flexible it impacts more than just the targeted business. One impacted business was presented at the public hearing of another business who's plans for expansion were halted as a result of this moratorium.

    The bottom line is that when the City is changing regulations, targeting specific businesses, or making subjective or reactionary decisions on what is good or bad it undermines any claims that Tacoma is business friendly.

  5. Afternoon David, thanks for your perspective. I agree we have numerous regulations already in place that should help but individual situations like Wal-Mart hoping to locate here can be pivotal in whether or not our codes and regulations are adequate or need to be further revamped. Issues like large-scale developments or new forms of digital advertising are unprecedented around here and I'd rather our leaders take the time to get things right rather than improvise decisions that will effect our future which is why I appreciate this moratorium. It's unfortunate other businesses may have been effected in the interim but a temporary inconvenience could mean better things for Tacoma's going forward in my opinion.

  6. Kevin-

    I agree with you that new technologies or industries can create uncertainty in regulations. However, I'd disagree that large scale developments are a new thing. The initial proposal that triggered this was for a large development with a different use with very significant impacts - yet no moratorium.

    The development and redevelopment of sites with large scale retail has successfully occurred for years with many opportunities to weigh in on the process and regulations - and people have weighed in. This is why the Mixed Use Center updates took three years - and that was just an update.

    These types of moves impact more than just a business or two. It impacts the ability to convince people that the City is business friendly. When an investor is trying to market a block of downtown for mixed use retail/office/residential, how do you tell businesses that development is welcome when the City just said so strongly "We don't want you"?

  7. So, to summarize, it sounds like it is the Chamber's recommendation this:

    The part-time city council ought to have established a moratorium on the moratorium, so that the council might be able to evaluate the effects of establishing a moratorium in order to evaluate and address the effects of the establishment of large-scale retail businesses within city limits.

  8. My overall concern is that we are in economic times where the city needs all the potential revenue through sales tax it can get. As just one example that is of concern to many residents, we have something like 100 years of deferred maintenance on our roads. The sales tax revenue derived from new large businesses could go a long way towards paying for long-needed public works improvements.

    My other concern is we can't really guess what a "good" or "bad" future big box store might look like--but to put a ban in place might discourage a national retailer from even considering Tacoma. A few possibilities:

    •Apple comes up with a new business model and starts stores similar to Best Buy versus their current smaller mall locations. Would we be left out?
    •Large local employers like Fred Meyer or Best Buy want to add an additional Tacoma location.
    •A well thought of brand like Amazon or Microsoft goes into the large retail space--would they not even consider Tacoma?
    •A local merchant find enormous success in Tacoma and wants to build a large box-type space. How sad if they started that business in Tacoma but would not be able to carry there business vision through in the town they started in.

    I know city residents have concerns about wages paid by these large retailers along with traffic patterns, congestion, etc. These same local residents also expect basic city services that are paid through sales tax. Let's make sure our citizens understand that for every business we turn away--it could potentially lead to a reduction in city services.

  9. I agree David that large-scale/big-box developments are nothing new. Though I'm personally not a fan of Wal-Mart I'm happy to see our City Council be open and willing to continue to refine our codes and processes to help shape a better Tacoma moving forward. I have no doubt more big-box retailers will come to Tacoma but I'm interested in how they can engage and work with our city for a better tomorrow (maybe a Wal-Mart mixed-use center?). If one big-box's plans coming to town stir things up enough for our Council to take that time so be it. The temporary inconvenience for these kinds of developments is worth the potential long-term gain in being a consciously planned city.

  10. Refining codes is great, especially to make sure they are consistent with the community vision. That's why the MUC updates were so important - for three years the community worked to update the vision for their centers. That's why the SMP updates are so important today. These processes allow for extensive community input to define our vision for tomorrow.

    However, this moratorium is predicated on there being an emergency because our regulations fail to address some issue. I've yet to hear any specific issue raised that is not addressable through existing regulations. Traffic, public services, parking - all there. Now, just because a tool is there does not mean it's going to be used. But failing to use it does not mean it is not there.

    If the vision has changed since June, when the Council last updated the regulations, that's fine; let's have a community conversation and look at changes. (The city is doing this now with the downtown parking regulations that have had such an impact on creating a walkable downtown.) This, however, does not constitute an emergency. Pretending that it does creates more than a temporary inconvenience in the business climate.