The most recent set of Cafritz meetings has passed and been memorialized. Rethink College Park has done a nice job of summarizing the meetings for those of us who were on vacation. Supposedly comments will be posted soon on the Cafritz site, however, the various slide shows promised at past meetings would be great.
Between work and back to school shopping, we have to fit in still more meetings (how do our elected officials do this?!). East Campus meetings are about to kick off and another set of Cafritz meetings are scheduled for September–it is time to hit the books again and consider how major retail centers could change our Route 1 corridor.
This article is reprinted with kind permission from The Hometown Advantage Bulletin, a free email newsletter published by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. To read back issues or join the mailing list, visit here. Read about comprehensive planning here. It is interesting to see how areas with much lower density are addressing community concerns creatively. We need to start somewhere in Prince George’s, why not the Route 1 area?
A number of communities now require a comprehensive economic and community impact review before approving any new retail construction. Typically, the review is triggered when the proposed development exceeds a certain size (e.g., a retail store larger than 20,000 square feet or that will generate more than 500 vehicle trips per day).
In order to pass, the proposed project must meet certain criteria outlined in the ordinance. These vary from place to place, but may include impact on the downtown business district, employment (jobs gained versus jobs lost), wages, tax revenue, roads and other public services, historic resources, air and water pollution, and traffic. As part of this process, cities typically require that economic and fiscal (tax) impact studies be conducted by independent consultants chosen by the city council and paid for by a fee assessed on the developer. In most cases, there’s also a public hearing to gather citizen input. In the end, if the city council (or planning board) determines that the project’s overall costs outweigh the benefits, then the developer is denied a permit to proceed.
In some areas, neighboring communities have worked together to establish a Regional Impact Review process for very large developments. Many corporate retailers are large enough to have impacts that will be felt well beyond the borders of their host town. Cities and towns often have difficulty rejecting unwanted retail development for fear that the store will simply locate in a adjacent town, generating many of the same harmful impacts but none of the tax revenue. Regional cooperation offers a solution to this problem. A handful of regions have taken this approach, creating joint planning agencies charged with reviewing applications for developments that exceed a certain size, or developments of regional impact (DRIs). This is in addition to any review and permitting required by the host municipality.
Some states are considering legislation that would require all communities to conduct economic impact reviews of proposed big-box development. See our rules covering Mandatory Impact Reviews. Examples of economic/fiscal impact studies of large-scale retail proposals:
▪ Study of a proposed Wal-Mart expansion (to a supercenter with groceries) Gunnison, Colorado
▪ Study of a proposed Wal-Mart Northneck, Virginia
▪ Study of a proposed Wal-Mart St. Albans, Vermont
Benecia, CA In June 2007, Benicia, a town of 27,000 people located about 40 miles northeast of San Francisco, enacted the following law, which stipulates that retail stores larger than 20,000 square feet will not be approved unless they meet half a dozen criteria.
Bennington, VT In January 2005, the town of Bennington, home to 9,200 people and located in the southwest corner of Vermont, enacted the following ordinance. It bans stores over 75,000 square feet in one commercial district and 50,000 square feet in the rest of the town. It requires proposals for stores over 30,000 square feet to submit to a community impact review conducted by an independent consultant chosen by the city. The cost of the review is to be paid by the developer.
Brattleboro, VT In October 2006, the select board of Brattleboro, Vermont, approved the following ordinance. It requires all proposals for retail stores in excess of 65,000 square feet to undergo an economic and community impact analysis.
Carbondale, Colorado In November 2003, after three years of debate and a voter referendum that demonstrated strong opposition to sprawling shopping centers, Carbondale, Colorado, enacted an ordinance that requires the town’s planning staff and Board of Trustees to weigh the community and fiscal impacts of a large-scale retail proposal before deciding whether to approve or deny the project.
Cranston, Rhode Island [proposed] Among the most comprehensive of the municipal impact review laws, this proposed ordinance in Cranston, Rhode Island, would apply to all development projects involving retail stores of 75,000 square feet or more. It stipulates that these projects must undergo an independent economic impact analysis.
Greenfield, Massachusett requires new retail stores to undergo a special review if they exceed 20,000 square feet or generate more than 500 vehicle trips per day. Impact studies are paid for by the developer and consider the project’s impact on traffic, municipal services, public revenue, the environment, the local economy, and the community. The community component includes potential impact on historic and scenic sites, the character of the town, and the downtown business district.
Homer, Alaska After two years of consideration—including a review by a city council-appointed task force, numerous public hearings, and a voter referendum—the city of Homer, Alaska, has capped the size of retail stores at 25,000-45,000 square feet and adopted a community impact review process for proposed retail developments over 15,000 square feet.
Los Angeles Community Impact Review Ordinance In October 2004, after months of debate on the consequences of big-box development, the Los Angeles City Council enacted a law that requires proposed superstores to pass an economic impact review in order to obtain approval to build. The law applies to retail stores larger than 100,000 square feet that devote more than 10 percent of their floor space to food and that are seeking to locate in economic assistance zones.
Middletown, Rhode Island In determining whether to approve or deny proposals for large-scale development, the Middletown Planning Board evaluates the project’s impact on traffic, municipal services, the environment, and the character of the community. The town requires that developers submit detailed impact statements and pay a fee to cover the town’s cost of hiring consultants to review the impact statements and offer independent analyses. For shopping centers and other commercial development, the fee is $100 per 1,000 square feet of gross floor space.
Mt. Shasta, California In March 2005, the City Council of Mount Shasta, California, voted 3-2 to enact the following ordinance, which caps stores at 50,000 square feet and requires proposals for stores over 20,000 square feet to undergo an economic impact review and obtain a conditional use permit.
Santa Cruz, California In October 2000, the Santa Cruz City Council voted unanimously to adopt an ordinance requiring new retail stores over 16,000 square feet to obtain a special permit. Only stores that add to a balanced and diverse mix of downtown businesses are allowed. “The continued establishment of large square footage retail businesses in the Downtown, if not monitored and regulated, may frustrate the Downtown Recover Plan goal of establishing and maintaining a diverse retail base with a ‘unique retailing personality,'” the ordinance states.
Westbrook, Maine In 2005, following a heated debate over a proposed big-box store, the town of Westbrook, Maine, adopted a zoning provision that require retail projects of 10 acres or more to undergo an economic impact analysis.
▪ Also see Regional Impact Review
▪ Protecting Locally Owned Retail: Planning Tools for Curbing Chains and Nurturing Homegrown Businesses by Stacy Mitchell, Main Street News, February 2004. (c)National Main Street Center, National Trust for Historic Preservation. All rights reserved.
▪ Big-Box Sprawl and How to Control It by Constance E. Beaumont with Leslie Tucker, Municipal Lawyer, March/April 2002