By Gideon Marcus ….
The Vista Planning Commission mulled over the city’s five-year-old restrictive policy on the opening of “Bargain Basement” stores at the regular meeting on February 18, 2014. The discussion was opened at the request of city Director of Community development, John Conley.
In 2007, concerned that incoming discount stores would ruin the image of Vista’s redeveloping downtown, the city imposed a moratorium on the establishment of dollar and bargain basement stores in its redevelopment zones. The council unanimously lifted the moratorium on February 9, 2009, but they then amended the city code to require stores primarily selling merchandise at under $5 an item be required to obtain a Special Use Permit subject to a review by city staff and then the Planning Commission. They were also required to pay a $6,958 nonrefundable processing fee, which paid city staff for the extensive review process.
Five years later, well into the recovery from the Great Recession, Vista has a surplus of vacant commercial buildings. Per Mr. Conley, the amendment had produced “too large a net” thus deterring several businesses from applying and inordinately delaying the applications of those who did go through the process.
Commissioners were clearly conflicted between the desire to fill vacant buildings and the danger of letting in a flood of cheap goods vendors. Commissioner Tom Fleming came the closest to suggesting that the amendment may have outlived its purpose or may do so in the future. “I’m a firm believer that most laws ought to have sunset clauses,” Fleming said.
Several commissioners voiced concerns, however, that a loosening of standards would result in clusters of stores in unsightly bargain basement malls.
“I like the idea of putting space between [stores]. I think a quarter mile is way too close. I’d like to see a mile so you have to travel to get to them,” Commission Chair Debra Cramer said, arguing for a statutory minimum spacing.
“I would like to see a circle drawn around,” Commissioner Stephanie Jackel agreed.
Mr. Conley replied that such a restriction would be difficult, if not impossible, to enforce. In fact, the City was not even sure how many stores currently fit the criteria of a “bargain basement” store per the amendment.
The commission then focused on modifying the amendment’s standards to let more stores in but still keep out the more undesirable shops. Lowering the price point to $2 was one proposal; another was to have more or less stringent requirements based on the type and size of store. In general, the commissioners expressed more comfort with corporate chains like “Dollar Tree” and “Family Dollar” than used-only goods stores.
“We need to separate the better stores from the lesser stores,” Commissioner Fleming said.
Mr. Conley will take these the Planning Commission’s suggestions to the City Council, where they will discuss the matter at an upcoming meeting. This will be an opportunity for the citizens of Vista to weigh in on the policy, as they did five years ago when it was first approved.