In August 2001, the Coconino County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed an ordinance barring the construction of stores larger than 70,000 square feet and requiring those over 25,000 square feet to obtain a conditional use permit. The ordinance will apply to all land in the county that lies outside of municipal boundaries. Coconino County is located in northern Arizona and includes the city of Flagstaff.
Two grassroots organizations, Friends of Flagstaff’s Future (F3) and the Flagstaff Activist Network (FAN), are largely responsible for initiating the public discussion that ultimately led to the ordinance. F3 and FAN launched a public education and organizing campaign last year after a developer announced plans to build a 200,000 square foot Wal-Mart store on the east side of town. Wal-Mart already has 100,000 square foot store on the west side of town.
The Wal-Mart supercenter, they argued, would harm local businesses and the economic vitality of downtown Flagstaff, which came back to life only recently as a result of a concerted public and private revitalization effort. A new supercenter, moreover, would almost certainly lead to the closure of the existing Wal-Mart.
Through a variety of outreach and educational efforts, including a public debate, F3 and FAN helped persuade local officials and the public that large chain stores may not be in the community’s best interest. In August, the developer announced that Wal-Mart was no longer part of his redevelopment plan. Two weeks later, the County adopted the size cap.
F3 and FAN hope that the City will likewise move to limit big box proliferation. One of the City Council’s major concerns has been the possibility that big box retailers, if barred from the city, would build just beyond Flagstaff’s borders. The County’s ordinance prevents that possibility.
F3 and FAN also hope to work with the Council and developer on drafting a redevelopment plan that would benefit the eastside without undermining other commercial centers.