Bozeman Weighs Economic Impact Review Ordinance

Date: 2 Mar 2002 | posted in: Retail | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

The Bozeman, Montana city commission is expected to vote later this month on a zoning ordinance that would require proposals for stores larger than 50,000 square feet (less than half the size of a typical Wal-Mart) to undergo an economic impact review before gaining approval.

The ordinance builds upon the city’s one-year-old growth policy, which seeks to foster “a diverse economy that will protect the economic climate for existing businesses,” to ensure that new development does not degrade Bozeman’s historic core, and to maintain an adequate supply of affordable housing.

Under the ordinance, a retail developer would be required to submit studies on the project’s economic and fiscal impacts, including its projected impact on existing businesses, retail employment, prevailing wages and benefits, and the costs of providing public services.

Bozeman is suffering a severe deficit of middle- and low-income housing. The ordinance would require an analysis of the development’s impact on the city’s housing supply (e.g., will employees earn enough to afford housing and how will the project impact the supply of housing?).

The ordinance mandates that large-scale retail developments also undergo traffic studies and that developers submit detailed plans for re-using or demolishing the building should the store closes.

The impact analyses would be conducted by an independent economic consultant approved by the city and paid for by the developer. A public hearing on the project would also be required.

Wal-Mart has tried for more than two years to expand its existing Bozeman store by 80,000 square feet. The new “supercenter” would combine general merchandise with a full supermarket.

Downtown business owners, many citizens, and several local environmental organizations have fought the expansion. Steve Kirchoff, then a city commissioner and now the mayor, initially called for a size limit that would bar Wal-Mart’s expansion and any new big box stores.

The size cap did not generate sufficient support from the city commission. At a September meeting—which drew a crowd of 200 opposed to the expansion—the commission gave Wal-Mart the go-ahead, provided that the developer take steps to mitigate the store’s impact.

Wal-Mart offered to spend $10,000 on mitigation.

Last month, the city manager informed the company that it would need to spend $25 million to offset impacts on the community and local economy. The figure was based partly on the difference between Wal-Mart wages and the area’s prevailing retail wage.

The city’s demand includes money for new downtown parking spaces; affordable housing; a shuttle, sidewalk, and bike path to link the Wal-Mart with the downtown; and a joint promotional program for the region’s supermarkets.

Both Home Depot and Lowe’s are hoping to build stores in Bozeman as well.

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Stacy Mitchell

Stacy Mitchell is co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and directs its Independent Business Initiative, which produces research and designs policy to counter concentrated corporate power and strengthen local economies.