Master-planning retail store-types makes for smart development
September 26, 2014
by Chuck Napoli
Several responses to my piece last week, “Op-Ed: In planning main streets, the mix is crucial,” made me realize just how deep a misunderstanding people have of the beneficial role chain stores play—when managed smartly by municipalities through Master Plan tools – in the most successful towns.
A variety of small towns in the United States whose residents wish to retain their distinctive character — such as Provincetown, Massachusetts and other Cape Cod villages; McCall, Idaho; Port Townsend, Washington; Ogunquit, Maine; and Carmel-by-the-Sea, California — closely regulate, even exclude, chain stores. They don’t exclude the chain itself, only the standardized formula the chain uses.
For example, there might often be a restaurant owned by McDonald’s that sells hamburgers, but not the formula franchise operation with the golden arches and standardized menu, uniforms, and procedures.
The reason towns want to regulate chain stores is to maintain the retail mix, stop displacement of small shops, and protect independent businesses from competition. According to Beth Greenfield in her New York Times article, Cape Cod Residents Keep the Chain Stores Out, published in June of 2010,
The ordinances work in one or a combination of ways: by requiring formula businesses to be approved for permits on a case-by-case basis, by not allowing such businesses to open at all in certain defined districts, by capping the number of chains allowed in the town, or by requiring chains to meet certain conditions.
And closer to home, just last week East Hampton Town, New York, followed suit. See *, below.
Here in New Castle’s hamlets we might need the business of burgers but not, say, “Hooters.” And to further elaborate: property owners and lease-holding tenants must be comfortable in the selection and mix of new businesses in the hamlets. In my plan, it would be the work of the property owners and the Bell Area Plan team to determine who will be invited to do business to enhance our retail inventory and brighten the retail day – a sort of mini-BID (Business Improvement District). And a food market, performing arts center and a lighted sports playing field would ensure additional foot traffic at the hub of the hamlet, in order to capture the large number of sales that occur after 5:00 p.m. I can’t speak for the other downtown property owners’ interests, but the Planning Board and Town Board must apply the same safeguards to all business districts – mine included. Key concepts to understand: invite and regulate.
Back in 2012 the community need was, as it is now, for a food store, and if someone who had read Beth Greenfield’s NYT Article had suggested, “Instead of a national chain category-killer supermarket, why not something a little bigger than the Chappaqua Village Market, a real grocery store—where would we and it be now? It may have been a relocated Chappaqua Village Market (its name says it all).
One thing would be certain: if there were a genuine market-style grocery store downtown and you needed a lawn chair, a thermos, light bulbs or duct tape, you would go to the Chappaqua Paint & Hardware store and not, for example, to aisle “4” of the category-killer supermarket that Summit Greenfield is proposing. The sale of that Chappaqua Paint & Hardware thermos will benefit and circulate in our local economy far better than national supermarket chain-store profit-taking through high-volume sales—and low paying rent and jobs.
So let’s drop the hyperbole about chains and instead choose to thoughtfully safeguard and approve what we want our towns to be by the use of special permitting, vehicle movement standards, and planning for a healthy business mix of new-comers to town—along with zoning standards of how and where they are permitted.
To help make that happen, a topic that distinguishes “types of retail” uses permitted with our own safeguards should be included in any Comprehensive Plan and serve, going forward, as a guide to any and all development proposals, including mine. This is what smart towns do to become great places where residents want to be. Certainly our existing hamlets are worth making into great places – and we deserve to have them.
How East Hampton Town, New York Did It
* Below, see how the local laws of East Hampton Town, New York were changed just last week to —(Resolution 2014-1145 Meeting of September 18, 2014) – to ensure that its hamlets develop in the smartest ways possible. They adopted “Formula Business” legislation to preserve and protect the Town’s unique character and goals set out in their Comprehensive Plan. Before the adoption of Local Law No. 32 of 2014 they (like New Castle) did not distinguish between the types of retail uses and left themselves open to unrestricted retail store types that can be hurtful to small town business.
What is a Formula [Chain] Business?
A type of retail store, restaurant, tavern, bar, or fast food or drive-in restaurant
which is under common ownership or control or is a franchise, and is one of 15 or
more other businesses or establishments within the United States maintaining two
or more of the following features:
(1) Standardized menu or standardized array of merchandise with 50% or more of
in-stock merchandise from a single distributor bearing uniform markings.
(2) Trademark or service mark, defined as a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a
combination or words, phrases, symbols or designs, that identifies and distinguishes
the source of the goods from one party from those of others, on products or as part
of store design, such as cups, napkins, bags, boxes, wrappers, straws, store signs or
(3) Standardized color scheme used throughout the interior or exterior of the
establishment, including, but not limited to, graphics, awnings, signage, and the like
visible from the exterior of the structure.
(4) Standardized interior decor, including, but not limited to, style of furniture, wall
coverings, permanent fixtures, displays, window treatments.
(5) Standardized uniform, including but not limited to aprons, pants, shirts, smocks
or dresses, hat, and pins (other than name tags).
Specific standards and safeguards
(1) The formula business is compatible with existing surrounding uses, and has been
designed in a non-obtrusive manner to preserve the community’s unique rural and
(2) The approval of the formula business shall be consistent with the policies, goals and
standards of the comprehensive plan, including, but not limited to consideration of
the following goals:
a. Maintain and restore where necessary, East Hampton’s rural, semi-rural
character and the unique qualities of each of East Hampton’s historic
b. Protect the natural and cultural features identified in the comprehensive
c. Protect historic buildings, hamlets, neighborhoods, landscapes and scenic
vistas from incompatible development. Prevent further loss of the Town’s
cultural and archeological resources.
(3) For a formula business within a designated historic district, the Planning Board
shall find that said business shall comply with the preservation goals set forth in the
Town Code for that specific historic district.
(4) The formula business shall not contain the features or attributes of the formula
business except for the service or product;
(5) The formula business shall utilize a unique visual appearance that is consistent with
the character of Town and not project a visual appearance that is homogenous with
its element in other communities.
(6) Only one formula business shall be permitted per building or lot, except for a lot
containing a legal multiple business complex. A multiple business complex may have
50% of the permitted or special permitted businesses be formula businesses.