The Portland Development Commission has recently launched a plan to solicit grocery stores to Portland's food deserts through a combo of possibly offering subsidies with urban renewal dollars, low-interest loans, and friendly real estate deals. Though they're essential to our health, there's a bunch of hurdles to building grocery stores. Most stores need at least 20,000 square feet of space to build on and owners do intense demographic research on the profitability of possible locations—stores usually need a certain density of well-educated, steadily paid consumers to keep in the black.
In my story, Lents resident Cora Potter called out New Seasons for saying its committed to equity, but not taking the chance to build a new store in her officially "blighted" neighborhood. In her column, Griffin talks with New Seasons co-founder Brian Rohter:
"When it comes to location, the low-hanging fruit is gone," said Brian Rohter, a co-founder of the New Seasons chain. "There are already stores in the places where putting a market pencils out." ... Pick almost any New Seasons, and Rohter has a horror story about all the ways city bureaucracy seemed to work against his operation. A few years ago, for example, New Seasons execs wanted a store at Southeast 20th Avenue and Division Street to replace a grocery that had closed. Half the property, the building, was zoned for commercial development. The other half, the parking lot, was zoned residential but grandfathered in as a condition use. That meant New Seasons wouldn't need to request a zoning change as long as any work didn't require new permits.
But between the old grocer moving out and Rohter's company moving in, city regulators updated Portland development standards to require any business that stores garbage in its parking lot to add an awning over its Dumpster or garbage bins.
Adding an awning required a building permit. Applying for a building permit meant losing that conditional use status. The subsequent parking-lot rezoning cost New Seasons close to $300,000 in legal fees.