Should Burien Have “Big Box” Stores? A Wal-Mart Next to Walgreens?

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Evil Wal-Mart?Burien City Council members recently voted 4-2 to approve comprehensive plan amendments that place no restrictions on the size of retail businesses (aka “Big Box Stores” like Wal-Mart) in the Northeast Redevelopment Area.

Mayor Joan McGilton, Deputy Mayor Rose Clark and councilmen Jack Block Jr. and Gordon Shaw voted for the final package of comprehensive plan amendments, which are required annually by the state’s Growth Management Act.

Councilwomen Sue Blazak and Lucy Krakowiak voted no.

Earlier, Block proposed an amendment, which was defeated, that would have limited the size of retail businesses to 80,000 square feet, changing the wording of “retail” to “moderate retail.”

Clark countered that a limit would only hinder the economic development of the Northeast area.

She expressed concern that this conversation has been hijacked from retail to “big box” when what really needs to be addressed is retail of all sizes.

“We are going to have traffic no matter what we put in unless we leave it empty,” Clark said. “Let’s not forget we are increasing our population in our downtown area and we are already understaffed for police and we need a higher tax base to meet these needs.”

Five years ago, the area was rezoned from residential to light industrial, and since then “we have been trying to make the transition occur,” Krakowiak said.

“The new administration is recommending retail but we’ve had less than a year to discuss it and you can’t change it to retail without knowing the impacts.”

Krakowiak pointed to traffic issues that could come from new retail development, along with added police costs to support the new businesses.

She said a decision should wait until the redevelopment master plan is complete.

Burien has budgeted about $500,000 for a study on redevelopment in the Northeast area, which will be completed later this year.

“I encourage us to postpone this until we have better info to base our decision on,” Krakowiak added.

Bringing “big box” stores into Burien has been an issue among council members and the public for some time now, Block argued, and a square-footage limitation will prevent stores like these from coming in.

“I think that our community isn’t comfortable with having ‘big box’ retail,” Block said. “The northeast area is not appropriate for that type of development.”

A major concern with larger stores is that they would force smaller businesses to close their doors, unable to keep up with lower prices and larger quantities.

“We’re not trying to compete with Southcenter, small businesses is how Burien has found its niche,” Blazak said.

But she was willing to consider some sort of retail as long as there was a restriction on size, such as Block proposed in his amendment.

Other council members suggested, however, that putting a size limitation on businesses wouldn’t be as effective as it is made out to be. Larger stores will just scale down to accommodate the zoning rules of the city, they said.

“There have been many communities in the Northwest that have limited the size of footprints and what happens is businesses just modify to fit in with the community,” Krakowiak said.

A higher tax base could potentially come from new businesses in the northeast area.

Shaw responded that this is the perfect area for large type of business.

The location of this area just off State Route 518 and SR 509 will allow other communities to patronize these businesses without disturbing Burien’s current downtown traffic patterns.

So…what do YOU think? Please answer our poll on the right…


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