The other day I put up a post detailing the restrictions that small-scale restaurants and food carts face, but I should mention that grocery stores and supermarkets also face similar restrictions. Like restrictions on restaurants, they end hitting poor, urban, black neighborhoods the hardest, creating the phenomenon known as “food deserts.” Aside from traditional Euclidean zoning that forbids building commercial structures like corner grocers in residential neighborhoods, developers also face a raft of minimum parking regulations and mandatory reviews. NYC’s FRESH initiative has been trying to overturn some of these restrictions (although it also offers developers a bunch of subsidies and tax breaks), but the restrictions they describe are still applicable in much of the city and in cities around the US:
Other regulations can drive up the cost of developing grocery stores. The Zoning Resolution currently applies a higher parking requirement for food stores over other types of neighborhood retail and service uses. The current regulations also restrict grocery stores to 10,000 square feet in M1 Districts. These regulations have cost implications and reflect outdated assumptions about the impacts of new food stores. New grocery stores may be required to purchase more land to accommodate parking than would be justified by the demand, in commercial districts where prevailing market rents are high and larger tracts of land are scarce. In M1 Districts where development costs are lower than commercial districts and larger tracts of land are more available, full-line grocery stores are subject to a time-consuming and costly public review process at a very low size threshold. These M1 Districts encompass light manufacturing areas in Mixed Use Districts where residential uses are permitted and light manufacturing areas directly adjacent to underserved residential districts.
Supermarkets are difficult to build even in more suburban areas – zoning approval for one Super Stop & Shop was apparently worth a $25,000 bribe to one developer outside of Providence, RI.