Sunrise suspends small store developments that pose “food desert” threat

Commissioners enacted a one-year moratorium on the development of “small box discount stores” that don’t sell fresh food

Sunrise Imposes Moratorium To Avoid “Food Desert” Threat
Sunrise Imposes Moratorium To Avoid “Food Desert” Threat

UPDATED, Aug. 28, 3:40 p.m.: Small discount stores must stay away from Sunrise, a city apparently at risk of not having enough grocery stores serving fresh food.

The city commission last week enacted a one-year moratorium on the development of what it calls “small box discount stores” that are 16,000 square feet or smaller and “may contribute to ‘food deserts’ in some areas.”

U.S. Department of Agriculture defines a food desert as “an area that lacks fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas,” according to the city’s new regulation.

The rule defines “small box discount stores” as those offering most of their inventory at a price lower than traditional retail stores. These “small box” stores do not include a pharmacy or a gas station and do not sell “fresh vegetables, fruits, meats, seafood or cheese” in large volumes, if any at all.

Sunrise will not issue development orders or building permits for the construction of small-box stores for the next 12 months, and in the meantime, city officials will review and possibly revise zoning rules for such stores.

The concern is that development of small-box stores “has increased in the past few years. They have spread throughout the city,” Sunrise community development director Shannon Ley said via email. Sunrise Mayor Michael Ryan did not respond to requests for comment.

Sunrise, home of Sawgrass Mills, one of the nation’s largest shopping centers, is a shopper’s paradise for everything except, apparently, groceries.

While grocery store operators have not blanketed the city with a population of about 92,000, they are not absent, either.

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According to their websites, Publix Super Markets has two stores in Sunrise and Aldi and Winn-Dixie each have one. Grocery store chains without locations in Sunrise include Trader Joe’s, Sprouts Farmers Market and Whole Foods.

How a moratorium on the development of small discount stores would make fresh food more accessible is unclear, said Tony Arellano, managing partner of DWNTWN Realty Advisors, a Miami-based commercial real estate brokerage.

“I’m not sure one has anything to do with the other,” Arellano said. “It looks as though this is a socioeconomic problem where they’re trying to use zoning to help provide better access to better food.”

Sunrise has been down a similar road before, when the issue was not food, but gas. In 2016, the city government imposed a moratorium on the development of gasoline stations to limit their spread.

“There were a lot of [gas station] developers that were applying for permits and land use changes, and I guess the city just had enough,” said Danny Diaz, a Miami-based vice president at CBRE who specializes in retail leasing.

New-store development in South Florida remains robust among convenience store operators 7-Eleven, Racetrac and Wawa, Diaz said.

“They’re not slowing down,” he said. “They’re still very active in this market.”

Correction: A previous version of this story also mentioned convenience stores, which are not part of the moratorium.