Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

One option for Alexandria's Del Ray neighborhood, but it might be too late: a formula retail overlay

Some communities, but not very many, have zoning restrictions concerning the opening of chain retail in their cities.

•  It may be for most every retail category, like in San Francisco,
•  or more focused on so-called big box stores, through big box review ordinances.
•  In Laguna Beach, California, they have a retail zoning categorization for what they call "neighborhood serving businesses."

The thing is that you need to have these provisions in place before a chain store comes calling, not after.

Today's Examiner has a piece, "Del Ray residents fight to keep Walgreens out," about the Del Ray neighborhood in Alexandria, and how some residents are not in favor of the possible coming of a Walgreens pharmacy-convenience store to a site that would necessitate moving out 5 independent retailers currently located there.

Rather than an outright ban, I am in favor of conditional use permitting processes.  And I think it's reasonable to include such a zoning regulation in traditional/neighborhood commercial districts.  In fact, the process of creating Main Street type commercial revitalization initiatives should include a set of zoning provisions that support the program, traditional streetscapes, etc.

That being said, I recall reading a study by the Community Land Use and Economics Group found that healthy traditional commercial districts have chain stores in their overall retail mix, upwards of 15% .

Ironically, although we only see this in big cities, Walgreens, through their acquisition of Duane-Read, the New York City based pharmacy retailer, is doing some of the most innovative "pharmacy" retail in the US, with stores in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Chicago, and San Francisco including features such as a specialty finance publications (on Wall Street), cosmetics counters, sushi bar, and draft beer on tap.

According to the DCist, in "Walgreens Upgrades From Drug Store to 'Experience'," the new Walgreens opening at 7th and H Streets NW in Downtown DC will be one of these tricked out pharmacies, with 

  • "A nail bar offering professional manicures"
  • "Expert eyebrow shaping and grooming services"
  • "Self-serve frozen yogurt dispensers and toppings for unlimited options"
  • "A juice and smoothie bar"
  • "An Upmarket Café offering a barista preparing fresh brewed premium coffee and espressos"
  • "Walgreens’ new, virtually-enhanced pharmacy."

Salina Drug StoreImagine if in Del Ray, Walgreens would bring back the old style soda fountain--which is not an element in any of the new Walgreens/Duane-Read store innovations, but historically the firm was a big innovator in this arena.

In that case, it would be possible for a chain store to bring innovation to a neighborhood, even if usually the process is one of standardization.

In any case, having a conditional approval zoning process would provide the opportunity for more input into the result, it wouldn't necessarily mean an outright denial, although it could.

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8 Comments:

At 10:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1) Alexandria is bending over backwards to find ways to try to slap an SUP on them. Thats the Alexandria way, put up roadblocks to development in as many ways possible.
2) A soda fountain? Really? If a few DR rez's have their panties in a bunch about a Walgreen's, they'd really scream if a soda fountain were proposed as that would been seen as competition to the beloved mom & pop charming local businesses (i.e. Dairy Godmother) that should be exempted from any competitive pressures.
3) Blog comments are not the best judge of community opinion, but apparently many people think one CVS's monopoly on spending is just fine. Should note that the general area is rather short on drug stores, since the one in Arlandria closed in anticipation of the redevelopment of a strip there, and years ago there was a Rite Aid as well which subsequently closed. Right now its the one CVS, or you have to schlep outside the neighborhood.
4) A lot of blog commenter are weak on reading comprehension and seem to think an existing building will be razed in order to build a suburban model store.
5) The Examiner article was pretty much lifted verbatim from Patch. Good riddance to them.
6) A lot of the retail DR rez say they love and want reminds me of why a lot of people buy Viking stoves. They buy it for the way they wished they cooked, not for how they actually cook. The retail is cute, but how useful is it? The proposed site has antique shops, a cell phone store, a laundramat, and something else, and in 20 years I've had no reason to set foot in any them. On the other hand, I'd appreciate the usefulness of a drugstore that is nearby to me and doesn't require that I have to get in my car and schlep across town or get out and schlep up and down Rt 1. I'm neither pro or anti Walgreens, but I don't see it as a detriment to my quality of life. If anything, I welcome more stores that have more useful things that I can buy in the neighborhood, so I can spend less wasted time going elsewhere to get them, AND creating less traffic constantly trekking in and out of the neighborhood.

 
At 11:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The planned location for the Walgreens is like 100 yards from a CVS, so I don't think anyone will have a huge increase in convenience.

 
At 11:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a DR Resident let me add to Anonymous said.

1. True, but they also exploding in developmental in Potomac Yards and Braddock Road Metro area. Which I think would be an even better Walgreens location.

2. There is at least 2 ice cream/soda fountainish stores in DR. But there is plenty of competition, DR doesn't exists in a vacuum, it exist in a urban fabric with many many choice outside (DC Arlington, Fairfax) and several nearby (Old Town, Shirlington,Crystal City).

3. Walgreens should lobby that they will bring foot traffic and increase demand on Mt Vernon Ave. There are plenty of vacancies, under utilized lots up and down the ave. Higher demand will encourage development.
4. All true. But maybe Walgreens knows that if it wanted to raze or significantly alter the building their plans will almost immediately be shot down. This isn't the first time Walgreens has made a play at this location.
5. The Del Ray Patch has an excellent reporter.
6. I think most of DR are mourning the lost of the antique stores mostly. They have to face it, they are gone, no matter if Walgreens moves in or not. The market, electronic stores and the laundry I don't think will be missed, unless you live in one of the apartments nearby.

 
At 11:23 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

anon 1 -- that's why these issues are tough. The kind of retail that populates successful Main Streets tends to be for unnecessary stuff, like antiques.

If a trad. retail district has a hardware store, a pharmacy, and ideally a decent grocery store, that's the trifecta!

And it would be interesting if Walgreens could or would bring their new innovations to the traditional suburban store, or allow the stores to be multistory (which violates the pharmacy REIT business model) as a way to strengthen commercial districts on additional dimensions.

But I don't think either is what's going on.

In any case, you need the SUP procedures in place from the outset, not after the fact.

2. It's been a couple years since I've been to Del Ray so I don't recall the block by block nature of the corridor. They are probably in a similar situation to Takoma in that many of the stores are rented, and there isn't much available space, and new spaces are needed to accommodate dif. types of tenants.

E.g., in Takoma DC, the adult day care left one building and it switched to Trohv, a housewares store. And the new apartment building coming to Carroll St. will bring some new retail space, which will accommodate a Busboys and Poets (something else I aim to write about).

3. But adding a Walgreens when you already have a CVS isn't expanding the options much, unless the store was to be different from their suburban norm.

 
At 11:28 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

oh, and thanks Anon 1, 2, and 3 for your great comments. Anon 3 -- it's definitely the case that the overall retail mix needs to be planned, in order to maintain Del Ray's relevance in the face of the other changes you mention.

I remember going to an Alexandria retail summit type thing a few years ago, that featured Bob Gibbs, and I remember not being particularly impressed with the initiative, that they weren't thinking about the various retail districts in the city and how to make them complementary and stronger overall, rather than looking at them individually and somewhat disconnected, and how Del Ray to strengthen its position for independents, as rents were likely to rise on King Street.

http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2009/06/environmental-mumbo-jumbo-green.html

 
At 1:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From 2005:

"Working collaboratively, Planning staff and the MVABAP Work Group defined a future direction for Mt. Vernon Avenue's "main street retail district," to guide change while protecting adjoining neighborhoods. The Work Group was comprised of residents, businesspeople, and community representatives from the Del Ray and Warwick Village Citizens Associations and Mt. Jefferson Civic Association, and the Potomac West Business Association (PWBA). The result of this collaborative effort is the Mt. Vernon Avenue Business Area Plan.

The Plan includes integrated strategies for land use, parking, pedestrian safety and transit enhancements, retail marketing and arts promotion, urban design/streetscape, and zoning. The strategies seek to protect the adjacent residential neighborhoods while encouraging the dynamic, mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented nature of the Avenue. An overlay zone was recommended for commercially zoned properties along the Avenue from Commonwealth Avenue to Nelson Avenue to encourage new retail uses, provide flexible parking requirements for retail uses, and to allow some uses with an administrative permit. Included in the overlay zone are a series of form based design guidelines to ensure that new and infill development protects historic buildings and is compatible with the current pattern of development along the Avenue. "


http://alexandriava.gov/planning/info/default.aspx?id=7032

 
At 4:36 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

THanks. How's that going... ?

 
At 4:36 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Oh, and that would have been the time to insert SUP provisions wrt chain retailers.

 

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