PORTLAND — It has been 15 months since a task force was organized to study the impact of formula businesses in the city’s downtown, and some members are fed up with the panel’s lack of action.
The Business Diversity Task Force was organized in February 2007 and began meeting that September. Its creation was the result of a short-lived and controversial Formula Business Ordinance passed by the City Council in the fall of 2006 after the announcement that a Hooter’s restaurant might move into downtown. The ordinance banned chains and most franchises from downtown and the Old Port unless an existing chain left. It was repealed in February 2007 and the task force was created to study the issue of formula, or chain, businesses in the city and report back to the City Council with any recommendations for restrictions on such business.
While the committee has had options for formula business restrictions on the table since the beginning of the year, and at least one chairman has been calling for a vote since the end of 2008, the task force has so far been unable to vote. Much of its January meeting was spent debating the overall issue of restricting chain business locations. The February meeting was cancelled and on Friday, staff announced that the March 19 meeting would also be cancelled, due to scheduling conflicts between the two chairmen, Councilors David Marshall and Cheryl Leeman. The task force is scheduled to meet every third Thursday of the month.
The second consecutive cancellation prompted Councilor Dan Skolnik, another member of the task force, to call for the vote.
Skolnik said Monday that he was troubled by the repeated cancellations and believes the task force is “stalled.”
“We don’t seem to be moving forward,” he said. “Every time we meet, the conversation devolves back into the first principles.”
He added that the task force has discussed several proposals during the past 15 months of meetings.
Marshall said the March 19 meeting had to be cancelled because he will be out of town and Leeman has a scheduling conflict. But he had sentiments similar to Skolnik’s regarding the need for a vote.
“We’re suffering through the same debate that has been going on all along,” Marshall said. “We need to just have a vote and move on.”
The task force has 15 members and includes members of Portland Buy Local as well as a downtown franchise owner and property owners. The group has two proposals before it that it could recommend to the City Council.
One would establish an ordinance that would require formula businesses hoping to move into the downtown to obtain conditional use approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals. The second would create rules within the Pedestrian Activities District overlay zone (much of downtown), including one requiring property owners to market their empty spaces exclusively to non-chain businesses for six months before engaging chain or franchise businesses.
In the proposals, a chain, or formula, business is defined as a “type of business establishment which maintains a standardized array of services and/or merchandise, menu, trademark, logo, service mark, symbol, sign, decor, architecture, layout, uniform, or similar standardized feature.” The language is modeled after that found in a similar ordinance passed by the city of Coronado, Calif.
Marshall said when the task force does eventually vote, it could pass both proposals, reject both or accept one. Whatever is decided will be sent to the City Council as a recommendation.
Skolnik said he expects there will be more than one proposal made to the council, because the task force is split on the issue.
The panel is scheduled to meet April 23 at 5:30 p.m. in City Hall council chambers.