By Betsy Dolan
Warehouse club-store chain Costco is one step closer to coming to Sugar Land after the City’s Planning and Zoning commissioners unanimously recommended the plan which now goes to the City Council for final approval. Plans call for the approximately 150,000-square-foot store to be built on 16 acres near U.S. 59 and University Boulevard in Telfair.
Sugar Land’s Principal Planner, Ruth Lohmer, outlined details of the proposal at the regular Planning and Zoning meeting on May 24. The final development plan reflected changes requested by the commissioners pertaining to site layout, landscaping, building materials and pedestrian and bicycle amenities. But the biggest discussion arose from concerns about signage and Costco’s offer to install fewer signs if some were allowed to be larger than the city’s sign ordinance allows. While several commissioners expressed support at the idea of fewer signs, none felt comfortable making an exception for Costo when other businesses have had to comply.
“We’ve had other big boxes come to us and ask for variances and we’ve said no,” said Commissioner Paula Stansell. “I feel like we need some consistency.” Commissioner Carl Stephens questioned the need for larger signs as Costco is a “membership driven business so signs will not draw in new customers because they’re already going to know that Costco is there.”
The Commissioners also took up the issue of future building use, should Costco ever leave the site. The commissioners had recommended various pedestrian and bike amenities in the event the building becomes a movie theater or other family venue in years to come. But Ted Johnson, Development Director for Costco’s Midwest division, questioned the need for a bike rack outside of the store’s entrance saying that employees can park their bikes in the receiving area of the store.
“I do have a problem putting a bike rack within 50-feet of the front entrance,” said Johnson. “Those of you who shop at Costco know that there is a lot of activity, a lot of carts, a lot of flat beds. Our numbers do not drive bikes.” Johnson suggested a bike rack exemption for members-only warehouse clubs which the commissioners approved after one of the city attorney’s gave her o.k. with the stipulation that future owners of the site would need to adhere to the planned development and install bike racks.
Johnson also reiterated, after a question by Commissioner Stansell that the Sugar Land store would not contain a car wash but would sell gas.
According to Costco’s web site, they have about 600 stores with $87 billion in annual sales in fiscal 2011, and anticipates close to $100 billion in sales in–over the next 12 months.