The Fort Worth City Council is trying to find a way to limit dollar stores.
In its work session Tuesday, the council heard a presentation from Planning and Development Director Randle Harwood after Councilman Kelly Allen Gray asked city staff in May to look into ways to stop the proliferation of low-cost box stores like Dollar General and Dollar Tree. The issue came to light after members of the Rolling Hills community tried to fight the incoming Family Dollar at Riverside and Campus drives.
According to a report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, dollar stores operate on a business model of oversaturation, thereby crowding out competitors or potential competitors. In rural communities, they often become the singular source for grocery needs and in poor and underserved minority communities, they proliferate until no other business wants to locate there.
Gray called the practice “predatory.”
“Between east of I-35 and the Arlington city limit … there are 100 dollar-type stores,” she said.
The issue before the city at the moment is how to limit future stores. Other cities who have taken on the task have done so in two ways: by enacting a physical buffer to prevent future stores from opening too close to one another and requiring future stores to carry fresh produce.
Harwood said the buffer was where it got tricky. In his presentation, he showed how varying distances would affect the proliferation issue — at 600 to 1,000 feet, a buffer wouldn’t do much to avoid high concentration. At 5,000 feet it would make a little more difficult, and at three miles it would make it pretty much impossible to open a new dollar store.
However, Harwood said, enacting a three-mile buffer would make the city vulnerable to legal challenges.
Gray, however, wasn’t giving up on the buffer. If three miles made the city legally vulnerable, then make it two and a half, she said.
Harwood put forth other options for the council: In addition to instituting a buffer and requiring future dollar stores to carry fresh food, the council could also consider limiting future dollar store development to fewer zoning districts and providing more incentives for traditional grocery stores.
However, any action the council would take on limiting dollar stores would only apply to future stores — the stores that already exist would essentially be grandfathered in and would be exempted from regulation.
Councilman Cary Moon pointed this out, suggesting perhaps there needed to be some kind of regulation to rein in existing stores.
“I think our policy has to center on two things: How do we control future development of these stores, and how do we positively impact the stores that are already there?” he said.
Mayor Betsy Price agreed that something needed to be done about the predatory practices of dollar stores, but she was hesitant to pass regulations on the ones that already exist.
“I’d like to see it go forward, but I’d like to see it done right,” Price said.
The next step on the issue won’t happen until October. Council will hear an informal report and the city Zoning Commission will be briefed on the issue. In November, the Zoning Commission would vote on a text amendment to zoning policy, so the soonest the council could make anything official would be in December.