Recently, one forward thinking Pennsylvania grocery retailer opened a new Ecommerce hub facility at the site of one of its former, traditional grocery store buildings in a mixed-use neighborhood. Rather than demolishing the existing “brick and mortar” building, it is adaptively reusing the building by converting it to a new “click and mortar” facility.

For many retailers, the traditional retail approach includes a commercial building with a significant retail display and sales area directly accessible by customers selecting and purchasing their goods onsite.  But new approaches are popping up every day.  The new approach referenced above allows customers to place orders online using their electronic devices or onsite using tablets located in the building’s vestibule area.  Orders are processed and fulfilled onsite and either picked up by customers or delivered to customers via a delivery service.

This local retailer is just one example of an emerging business trend whereby “shopping fulfillment centers” are occupying vacant, former retail store buildings located in close proximity to customers.  “Shopping fulfillment centers” combine the business’s retail functions and activities and its warehouse or distribution activities into one building.  These new, smaller facilities provide customers options for viewing goods and placing orders online or onsite.  Goods are stored and orders are processed onsite.  Customers can have their orders delivered to them or to another facility or location, or they can pick up their orders onsite.

The benefits of the combined use extend to land planning and development, too, especially when it is implemented as a reuse of an existing building.  For example, retrofitting vacant commercial buildings near customers within existing business areas served by a full range of utilities and infrastructure is a more sustainable approach than constructing new single function buildings on “greenfield” sites that are often located further away from customers.  In addition, by locating the facilities in existing buildings in appropriately planned, zoned and compatibly developed business areas, open space, farmland and other important natural features are less affected.  Further, such facilities – which might otherwise be vacant or closed – provide business and employment opportunities and might increase tax revenues for municipalities and school districts.

Understanding this new use exists is just the first part of our equation.  The second is ensuring this efficient and and adaptive reuse is permitted by zoning.  While most zoning ordinances may not expressly define or permit “shopping fulfillment centers,” without a doubt, such facilities are retail businesses.  Since most business zoning districts that permit retail and other similar compatible businesses generally would permit “shopping fulfillment centers,” amending zoning ordinances to separately define and permit the use probably is unnecessary.  However, there may be specific instances where zoning amendments can help ensure these compatible retail businesses are able to locate in proper opportunity areas.

Another zoning consideration relates to parking.  Because of the increase in the number of offsite customer deliveries and the corresponding decrease in the number of onsite customers, it may be necessary to convert required parking spaces to customer pickup or delivery vehicle spaces.  Therefore, it may be necessary to reduce the number of required parking spaces for “shopping fulfillment centers.”  The excess parking spaces could be used to expand the building, provide new sites for other complimentary businesses, or to reduce impervious coverage and stormwater runoff.

Keep an eye out for more of these friendly neighborhood fulfillment centers coming to a shopping area near you.  Please contact any member of the McNees Wallace & Nurick Land Use Group with questions regarding this post or for assistance with any land use issues.