After a four-hour meeting on Feb. 18, the Victor Planning & Zoning Commission decided to continue reviewing a Broulim’s rezone application for the old school property at next month’s meeting; the commissioners wanted more time to hammer out conditions of approval to make the proposed grocery store development more harmonious with its surroundings and with other commerce in town.
The eastern Idaho grocery store chain is under contract to purchase the former Victor Elementary School property on Center Street for $600,000, but the sale is contingent on a zone change and other approvals from the City of Victor. Broulim’s has requested a rezone from civic to commercial mixed-use order to accommodate a new 20,000-square-foot store with apartments on the second floor.
The P&Z public hearing was the first opportunity for community members to make official comment on the proposal since the school district selected the Broulim’s bid last August, and around 100 spoken and written comments were submitted, many in opposition to the project.
People opposed to the grocery store questioned whether a supermarket fits with the character of Victor, stated their concerns about a valley-wide grocery monopoly or unfair competition with small businesses in Victor, asked that the community have more input on future development of a current school property, and said that the store and large parking lot don’t fit the proposed zone of CX.
In an effort to delay the decision, Valley Advocates for Responsible Development argued that it was legally dubious to use a draft comprehensive plan (the city council will consider adopting the new plan at its meeting on Feb. 24) to judge the merits of the application, but the city planner and attorney disagreed, saying both the old and new plans outline a very similar vision for uses in the downtown core.
People in favor of the application said the new grocery store was offering convenience and walkability for Victor residents as well as workforce housing, and its existence would slow the leakage of retail dollars to Driggs, Idaho Falls, and Jackson, and increase tax revenue for the city and the Victor Urban Renewal Agency.
During the public hearing, the P&Z commissioners wrestled with the question of how to respond to an applicant who, after two failed attempts to gain entrée to Victor, appears to be trying to give the city what it wants. In 2016 the community balked at a parking lot-centric development outside of the downtown core; in 2019 the proposal was still too far from town for some, and others argued it was too large to fit the character of Victor. In its most recent iteration, the Broulim’s building is small enough to meet Victor’s new size restrictions, has a pedestrian entrance from the sidewalk on Center Street, is in the heart of downtown, and, according to the company’s vice president Mark Oswald, will reuse locally-quarried limestone from the façade of the old school.
“We denied them twice and they did everything we’ve asked as far as I can tell,” said Commissioner Kristi Aslin. “I don’t see another place in town where they could put a grocery store, and yet we denied them outside of town because we didn’t want to pull business off Main Street. I’m kind of torn between the constituency that says ‘we don’t need this grocery store,’ and the fact that they’ve done what we’ve asked them to do in a pretty thoughtful way compared to their other structures in their chain of supermarkets.”
Aside from Commissioner Ben Winship, who said that after hearing the arguments he still opposed the rezone, the other P&Z members seemed open to the rezone and decided to put together an exacting list of conditions to further tailor the development to the community’s desires. Some of the conditions included a traffic and economic study, asking Broulim’s to work with its neighbors to increase the pedestrian and automotive circulation of the entire block, restricting some sales to protect existing businesses in Victor, increasing the number of housing units, and requiring the store to be open on Sundays.
“I think this is a real opportunity to work with Broulim’s to make this an even more pedestrian-focused development in order to inspire more of that kind of development in Victor,” said Commissioner Carl Kohut about adding conditions of approval.
Commissioner Matt Thackray expressed the difficulty faced by the members of P&Z in giving the applicant fair consideration while also accommodating the values of the community and remaining cognizant of the many opposition comments from members of the public, who might include their own friends and neighbors.
The next P&Z meeting is March 18. No more public comment will be taken during the meeting. The commissioners can vote to recommend approval of the rezone with or without conditions, or recommend denial, but the Victor City Council has the final say on the rezone. If the rezone is approved, the development will also need to go through site plan review and design review, and receive a conditional use permit in order to build a store larger than 15,000 sq. ft. Those processes will all come before Victor P&Z.