City council gets review of acceptable uses at Merriam Town Center as officials look to keep center occupied

The former Hen House at Merriam Town Center has been vacant since last summer.

As the city of Merriam explores options for keeping Merriam Town Center vibrant after the loss of Hen House and the prospect of other possible departures as long-term leases expire, Mayor Ken Sissom says he’s been hearing a common concern from residents.

“For some reason, a number of our residents believe that we have a greater ability to decide what goes in there than we actually do,” Sissom told the council during Monday evening’s meeting. “I’ve been called and pled with to bring this business there or that business there, and I have to explain to them, this is not something the city can do, it’s private property.”

At the mayor’s request, Community Development Director Bryan Dyer offered a presentation to the governing body about acceptable uses at the center under city ordinance and the property owner’s own restrictions.

Dyer acknowledged that city staff hear many of the same questions the mayor mentioned.

“We do assist folks in getting the proper permits and things they need to go into those, but it’s the property owner who is the one out there actively, should be out there actively, recruiting folks to go into the property,” Dyer explained.

Dyer says city code is one of two significant factors influencing what kind of businesses can and cannot become tenants in the city. Merriam Town Center falls under the city’s most prevalent commercial zoning with no special restrictions dictated by the city.

Individual developments have what is called private reciprocal easement and operation agreements, or REAs, that act as a restrictive covenant, Dyer explained.

“Restrictive covenants are very prevalent for most newer, larger retail developments,” Dyer said.

Dyer compared REAs to restrictive covenants residents may have encountered within their Home Owner’s Association.

“If you hear someone; friend, neighbor or family member who says, ‘I couldn’t put up a basketball goal because my restrictive covenants require a clear basketball backboard,’ that’s what they’re talking about,” Dyer said. “They’re talking about the REAs they signed when they bought the property.”

Merriam Town Center’s REA, which Dyer says is a 71-page document that was adopted in 1997 and is “an extremely technical, complicated legal document.”

The REA strictly prohibits specific uses, while exempting Home Depot and a few other businesses along Antioch Road. Home Depot’s exemptions include outdoor storage.

Dyer says the city has no say in the REA, as long as the uses comply with city ordinances.

City Administrator Chris Engel said there are a lot of places which could go in where the Hen House used to be, but many just can’t because the space is so large.

“I think a good takeaway is that while there is a belief that we’re not doing enough to get people in there or we’re doing too much to keep people out it’s a little bit more complex than that,” City Administrator Engel said. “There’s quite a few things that really could go in there, but it’s really up to site development to find the right retail mix to go into those vacancies.”