Big Box Opponents Win Two, Lose One on Election Day

Date: 1 Nov 2002 | posted in: Retail | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

EASTON, MARYLAND — Home Depot suffered a resounding defeat at the ballot box in Talbot County, Maryland, on Tuesday in what residents hope will be the company’s final attempt to build one of its giant stores in this rural Eastern Shore community.

In 1999, after Home Depot and other big box retailers proposed stores in the town of Easton, the City Council enacted a big box moratorium and subsequently adopted an ordinance barring stores over 65,000 square feet. Home Depot then moved to build just over the town line in Talbot County on land zoned industrial. Home Depot claimed its store qualified as an industrial use. The county planning staff agreed, but the elected Planning Commission did not and rejected the project.

Home Depot then decided to rewrite the county’s planning law. It persuaded the Talbot County Council to enact a measure allowing home improvement stores to locate in industrial zones and stripping the Planning Commission of its authority to approve development proposals. This power was instead given to county planning staff.

Residents organized as Citizens for Sound Growth gathered 4,000 signatures and placed the measure on the ballot. On Tuesday, it was rejected by a 54 to 44 percent vote, despite the fact that Home Depot spent $150,000 on the campaign, compared to $3,000 spent by the citizens group. Voters also approved a measure giving the Planning Commission greater authority to review development proposals, ousted several pro-Home Depot County Council members, and elected five candidates who favor controlling sprawl.

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, CALIFORNIA — Citizens of San Juan Capistrano soundly rejected a proposal to sell city-owned property to a Home Depot developer. The advisory measure failed by a 69 to 31 percent vote.

Home Depot has been trying to build a 130,000 square foot store with another 26,000 square feet of retail in San Juan Capistrano for several years. Hundreds of residents have signed petitions against the project and turned up for protests and public meetings.

Of particular concern has been the potential impact on locally owned businesses. “The ripple effect of this loss of local businesses will not only affect the character of the City of San Juan Capistrano, but also in the loss of the untold positive contributions these citizens and merchants make in our communities,” wrote the No Home Depot Committee.

ELLSWORTH, MAINE — By 1,719 to 1,099, voters in Ellsworth, Maine, rejected a measure to impose a six-month moratorium on large-scale retail development pending an update of the community’s comprehensive plan.

The measure was sponsored by the Citizens Organized for Responsible Development (CORD). CORD member Audie Tunney told the Ellsworth American, “Although we would have loved to have the question answered differently, we had nearly 39 percent of voters. . . expressing a real concern and a need for planning in the community.”

Opposition to the moratorium seemed to stem from concerns about rising tax rates and the cost of public services, and a feeling that any type of growth would ease the problem. “History shows that that is not the case,” Tunney said. “Communities don’t gain by unplanned growth.” Voters did endorse CORD-supported candidate Leigh Guildford for the City Council.

MAPLEWOOD, MISSOURI — Opponents of a shopping center in Maplewood, Missouri, failed to persuade voters to block the project. Two-thirds of voters approved ordinances to make the 31-acre development eligible for public subsidies and authorize an agreement between the city and the developer. The shopping center will include a Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club.

Citizens opposed to the project spent about $13,000 on the referendum. The developer spent $126,000, or $61 for every favorable vote.

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Stacy Mitchell is co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and directs its Independent Business Initiative, which partners with a wide range of allies to implement policies that counter concentrated power and strengthen local economies.