The Baytown Planning and Zoning Commission is unanimously recommending no on making amendments to the Unified Land Development Code concerning small box discount retail, which are more commonly known as dollar stores.
The P&Z will consider amendments to the code on a smaller scale limited solely to the San Jacinto Overlay District, which already has restrictions. Any future plans that would impact dollar stores will be presented to the P&Z commission as its next meeting.
The P&Z has held its second public hearing on the matter, which addressed some unintended consequences of the use of dollar stores.
Tiffany Foster, Baytown’s Planning and Development Services director, said there are 18 stores in Baytown fitting the description of small box discount retail stores.
“In the last five years, we had eight of them (open), nine of which are clustered in our revitalization investment area or to the southern end of town. We’ve been asked to look at if any of the unintended consequences were because of the proliferation, or the growth of these stores in our community.”
The proposal now goes back to city staff that will draft options based on the P&Z member’s comments. If the commission approves of the rewritten proposal, it will make a recommendation and send it to city council for final approval.
P&Z member Jeffery Walters said the number of dollar stores is a supply and demand issue.
“If there are too many, then there are too many,” Walters said. “I do not understand trying to regulate capitalism. It’ll do it itself.”
One of the conditions proposed in the amended code text was to essentially keep dollar stores from opening in the San Jacinto Overlay area. The overlay covers the San Jacinto Boulevard corridor and entails restricting certain types of businesses from locating there.
“Any new type of retail needs to be 1,000 feet away from it,” Foster said. “Baytown was late to the zoning game, we want to make sure we are keeping commercial away from residential as much as possible.”
Foster told the P&Z members her staff could bring back the proposed amendment to the code to them based on their feedback.
“But instead of having a stand-alone ordinance that has been presented to you, if you are just interested in protecting the overlay, we have the existing San Jacinto Overlay District where we can find a use and restrict that type of development from the overlay,” she said. “Let us go back and look at it from that standpoint.”
Mitchell Pearce, a P&Z commissioner, said he would agree to the change more if it were limited exclusively to the San Jacinto
“That is a baby step,” Pearce said. “It is an area we are hoping to grow into prominent retail dominance.”
Some citizens expressed concerns about regulating the dollar stores.
Billy Kerr, a Lakewood resident since 1942, spoke to the P&Z about his thoughts on the issue.
“I think you are trying to jump in and prescribe what a business can have,” Kerr said. “The zoning, from what I’ve seen, seems to be micromanaging what stores can handle.”
Baytown resident Tom Kincaid said he was “terribly and adamantly” opposed to the proposed amendments.
“I’ve only been in dollar stores a few times, but I do not want the city government to put their finger into private business,” Kincaid said. “I hope someone can put a stopper on this plan for the amendment.”
Tracey Wheeler, a P&Z commissioner, said regulating businesses is disconcerting to her.
“Will we just continue to regulate every business in our community? We need to be concerned about that,” Wheeler said. “If we start taking rights away from commercial people, particularly retail, then we have gone too far.”