Economic Development

Setting Limits on Big Boxes

Small towns try to zone out big stores.
by | May 2005

When Wal-Mart announced plans to build a massive outlet in a small town in Maryland, Calvert County commissioners passed a zoning law to thwart those plans: It limits the size of any store to 75,000 square feet.

But Wal-Mart didn't become the nation's leading retailer by allowing other entities to put a damper on its size or ambitions. So the company recently came up with a way to circumvent store-size limitations imposed by the county. Wal-Mart will build two adjacent stores--one 74,998 square feet; the other 22,689 square feet.

This is not sitting well with county leaders. Four out of the five commissioners are not happy with the proposal, says county planning director Gregory Bowen, who adds that the commissioners are interested in changing the regulations.

Bowen says lawmakers haven't yet decided on a strategy, but they might turn westward for guidance. The city of Hailey, Idaho, passed a size-limit ordinance but grew concerned about similar circumventions. A nearby town is home to two large Home Depot stores connected by a breezeway, and company officials alerted Hailey planners that a development might soon come their way.

So Hailey revised its ordinance to limit the size not only of individual stores but of any collection of stores that share the same owner and are located within 800 feet of each other. That has put an end to the calls from Home Depot, says city planning director Diane Shay, but the phone is still ringing off the hook with calls from public officials from around the country for information about copying the ordinance.

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