Bristol, RI, Bans Large “Formula” Businesses

Date: 6 Aug 2004 | posted in: Retail | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

“We may look back and think this is one of the most important things we’ve done,” said Bristol, Rhode Island, Town Councilor Halsey Herreshoff after the council unanimously passed a formula business ordinance in May. Bristol is a community of 23,000 people about half an hour southeast of Providence.

The ordinance bars formula businesses larger than 2,500 square feet or that take up more than 65 feet of street frontage from locating in Bristol’s historic downtown. A formula business is defined as any store, restaurant, or hotel that has standardized features that make it substantially identical to more than five other businesses, regardless of ownership or location.

Formula businesses smaller than 2,500 square feet may apply for a special use permit from the zoning board. To gain approval, the applicant must demonstrate that the business will not detract from the district’s uniqueness or contribute to the “nationwide trend of standardized downtown offerings,” and “will complement those businesses already in the Historic District and foster the local economic base.”

A group of citizens worked with town officials to craft the ordinance after a Dunkin Donuts franchisee announced that he would open an outlet on a prominent downtown corner. At the town council meeting, many residents rose to speak in favor of the ordinance. Several pointed to other historic New England towns that have been overtaken by formula chains. “We didn’t want to live in a mall,” said Keith Maloney, who moved to Bristol from mall-saturated Westport, Connecticut.

Also in May, residents of York, a community of 13,000 on the southern coast of Maine, voted to amend the town’s zoning ordinance to prohibit formula restaurants. The measure, which was endorsed by the Planning Board and the Board of Selectmen, notes that the town’s unique character is important to its “collective identity as a community.”

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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 partners with a wide range of allies to implement policies that counter concentrated power and strengthen local economies.