Store Size Cap – Madison, WI

In April 2005, Madison, Wisconsin, adopted a big-box ordinance that imposes some limits on the size of retail stores, but it is quite permissive compared to other examples on this site. The ordinance limits retail buildings to a footprint of no more than 100,000 square feet, which is about the same land area as two football fields. Because the limit is on the footprint of the building, rather than the gross leasable area of the store, the rules allow stores to be larger provided they are multi-story.

Developers may also apply to exceed the footprint if they incorporate design features such as underground parking or a “green” roof. The ordinance also impose design standards on stores over 40,000 square feet, including requirements in terms of building materials, entrances, set backs, and so forth.

The measure passed by an 18-1 vote. Council President Brenda Konkel and Alderperson Austin King offered amendments aimed at strengthening the ordinance. King proposed that the allowable footprint be reduced to 80,000 square feet and that big-box retailers over 40,000 square feet be required to pay a living wage of$9.74 an hour. Konkel moved that proposals for stores over 40,000 square feet be required to undergo an economic impact review. However, neither of these amendments passed.

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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.