Elk Grove City Council ponders options to close Wal Mart loophole

Map of proposed Wal Mart store in the Maderia neighborhood. With very little public comment and no rancor, the Elk Grove City Council hea...

Map of proposed Wal Mart store in the Maderia neighborhood.
With very little public comment and no rancor, the Elk Grove City Council heard a presentation on closing the so-called Wal Mart loophole at last night's city council meeting.

Reporting to the city council on their option to close the loophole was city planning director Taro Echiburu who presented a history of Title 23, which includes the city's big-box retail ordinance. Echiburu emphasized that there was extensive public outreach prior to making changes to the ordinance earlier this year.

Those changes would have allowed a retail establishment less than 100,000 square feet with at least 10 percent of total floor area dedicated to non-taxable goods, typically groceries, to be classified as a grocery store. Under this classification a conditional use permit (CUP) is not required.

It was under this loophole that Wal Mart sought to bypass big-box restrictions and establish their  99,998 square foot store in the Maderia neighborhood. The discovery of the loophole came at last months city council meeting and subsequent to that, the city council placed a 45-day moratorium on large retail establishments in excess of 50,000 square feet, specifically including general retail and grocery supermarket uses. 

Echiburu advised the council they can change the percent of non-taxable goods upward from the current 10 percent to 50 percent.  Echibura and his staff were criticized at a special council meeting on June 26 after the discovery the loophole but no further mention of how the language was inserted into the ordinance was made during last night's deliberations.

Peter Gaffney, who lives in the Maderia neighborhood and has been instrumental in the fight to keep Wal Mart from locating at the Bruceville Rd. and Whitelock Parkway site told the council he and his fellow neighbors appreciated the council's efforts but cautioned that zoning should not be used as an economic incentive to attract business. "This borders on catering to special interest," he said.

Council member Pat Hume countered Gaffney and the city does not use zoning as a mean of attracting business and said the city would close the loophole. "I think we have a solution teed up," he said.

During their deliberations council member expressed the desire to have the 10 percent threshold increased to anywhere from 50 to 60 percent of floor space dedicated to non-taxable item.

"We can't have a loophole for a store to qualify as a grocery store when it isn't," Council Member Jim Cooper said. 

The council gave Echiburu direction to report back at a future meeting with specific options to further amend Title 23 to close the loophole.

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