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Palm Coast Monday, Jan. 20, 2020 4 months ago

TOBY TOBIN: Palm Coast’s war on dollar stores and those who shop there

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From the first mention at the January 7 City Council Meeting to a Special Meeting only 7 days later, Palm Coast rushes to put a moratorium on new dollar format stores in Palm Coast. Is there a crisis?
by: Guest Writer

By Toby Tobin

Guest Writer

At a Special Meeting Jan. 14, the Palm Coast City Council rushed to pass an ordinance placing a 120-day moratorium on the approval of any new dollar format stores. The issue was first raised only seven days earlier by Mayor Milissa Holland during her Jan. 7 regular meeting comments on items not on the agenda.

“We have a lot of Dollar Generals popping up in our city and, frankly, I find it a little disconcerting,” Holland said.

The great concern is reportedly driven by a deep-seated belief that dollar format stores can damage a community. “We’re not looking to stand in the way of business or progress,” Holland said, “but we need to ensure that everything built in Palm Coast is for the public good. There’s compelling evidence from other communities around the country that dollar stores have various long-term effects, and we should be sure we’re protecting our community.”

Holland and the city attorney argue that dollar stores, which do not sell fresh produce, squeeze out local mom and pop stores that do, creating a virtual food desert.

Why the big hurry? Do we really have, as Holland says, “a lot of Dollar Generals popping up in our city"? 

Not really.

During all of 2019, there was only one building permit for a dollar store in Palm Coast, none in 2018, none in 2017 and only one in 2016. There are no new building permit applications for dollar stores in the pipeline.

The Dollar General at 1000 Matanzas Woods Parkway permit was issued on Aug. 28, 2019. The contractor stated value for construction was $762,447. The city received $77,779.70 in impact and permitting fees, exclusive of water and sewer connection charges.

The permit for the Dollar General at 20 Old Kings Road N. was issued on May 4, 2016. The contractor stated value for construction was $779,887. The city received $79,829.60 in impact and permitting fees, exclusive of water and sewer connection charges. The property owner paid $15,043.60 for property taxes for the 2019 tax year.

A food desert is defined as “an urban area in which it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food.” Palm Coast is hardly an urban area. It’s a sprawling suburb. Belying the food desert argument, there are several major chain grocery stores within the city.

With only two dollar store permits issued in the city since mid-2016 and with no dollar store permits in the pipeline, it seems odd that there is such a rush to judgment, requiring a Special Meeting of the City Council. Misusing terms like “food desert,” and making appeals to “the public good” are simply stalking horses. It turns out that the “compelling evidence from other communities around the country that dollar stores have various long-term effects” comes from only two municipalities (neither in Florida) that have passed ordinances to control further dollar store development.

I’m libertarian-minded. I don’t like our government deciding for me where I should or should not shop. When I shop at one of our local dollar stores, I find them invariably crowded. The free market is speaking loudly, apparently with little or no effect on competing food outlets.

Could it be that the dollar store war was not declared to save mom-and-pop fresh market grocers? Is that argument simply a stalking horse? The real objection is more likely the same kind of NIMBYism (not in my backyard) that protests apartment developments because apartments attract “those kinds of people.”

The Housing Element Section of Palm Coast’s Comprehensive Plan Says, “Citizens of all income levels shall have the opportunity to obtain quality housing at a reasonable cost.” It stands to reason that they should also have corresponding shopping opportunities.

Toby Tobin publishes real estate news at gotoby.com.

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