HANFORD – The Hanford City Council has compromised on where to allow stores selling furniture.
As part of a general plan and zoning ordinance overhaul, the council voted 4-0 Monday to set a 20,000 square-foot maximum on how much furniture floor space stores can have if they locate on the 12th Avenue corridor and at the Costco center.
Prior to the overhaul, stores wanting to sell furniture in those areas had to be larger than 50,000 square feet in total size and could only have up to 2,500 square feet of furniture.
The policy was designed to encourage economic development in the city's downtown core by preventing many businesses from coming to Hanford's primary commercial areas, which are not located downtown.
Councilman Justin Mendes, who has been an outspoken advocate of relaxing restrictions and allowing businesses to go where they want to, described Monday's change as a compromise necessary to get the general plan overhaul passed.
While Councilman Francisco Ramirez has been largely in agreement with Mendes, two other council members – Mayor David Ayers and Councilman Martin Devine – have been in favor of a more restrictive zoning policy.
Ayers said in an interview Thursday he wanted the furniture limit to be set at 10,000 square feet rather than 20,000.
Ayers and others are concerned that allowing such stores into Hanford's top commercial areas would put furniture stores downtown out of business.
"It was kind of a compromise, that's the best way to say it," he said.
Mendes said the compromise was reached in part to avoid a 2-2 tie between Ramirez/Mendes and Ayers/Devine.
Councilwoman and Vice-Mayor Sue Sorensen was absent from Monday's vote. Sorensen recused herself because of her concern over possible conflict of interest. She has a small ownership share in a downtown building and has said that decisions about downtown zoning could affect the value of her property.
Mendes said the compromise was designed to make it possible for Pier 1 or Cost Plus to come, but would keep out larger retailers.
"We're not going for Ashley [Furniture HomeStore]," he said. "We're not going for IKEA."
Mendes said he would have preferred no square footage restrictions.
"We both had to give a little," he said.
Lewis Smith, senior vice-president for Retail California, a commercial real estate marketing firm in Fresno, called the 20,000 square-foot limit "a little disappointing."
Smith said most furniture stores are bigger than 20,000 square feet and thus would be excluded.
Smith said such stores aren't looking to go downtown.
"The regional retail area for Hanford is at 12th and Lacey, and furniture stores want to be in a regional trade area," he said.
Smith said the 20,000 square foot limit could also prove unwieldy for larger multi-purpose stores that have furniture items blended in all over the store among non-furniture goods.
Smith said he's trying to recruit businesses to come into the former Forever 21 space in the Hanford Mall.
"Although it's a step in the right direction, [Monday's decision] will not help leasing efforts all that much," Smith said.
Hanford Mall Manager Joanne Doerter was also critical of the decision.
"Mall owners have invested millions of dollars in their properties and face the same challenges and struggles as small business owners but only on a much larger scale due to expense of operating an enclosed mall," Doerter said in a written statement. "It is irresponsible for city leaders to continue to protect a few businesses, turning away millions of dollars in future tax revenue."