Store Size Cap – Ravalli County, MT

In April 2006, the Ravalli County Commission unanimously adopted an ordinance limiting stores to no more than 60,000 square feet, after nearly 1,400 people turned out at the public hearing on the proposed cap (see “Crowd of 1,400 Turns Out as Montana County Bans Big Boxes“). The ordinance was an interim measure that was to remain in effect for one year while the community worked on a permanent ordinance.

Ravalli county is home to the town of Hamilton, has a population of 44,000, and is about an hour south of Missoula. The size cap was proposed by the Bitterroot Good Neighbors Coalition, which has been working since 2004 to build public support for limiting large-scale retail development.

After the cap was enacted, Wal-Mart, working through a local front group, gathered signatures to place the ordinance on the ballot. With $100,000 from Wal-Mart, the front group produced a flurry of ads and other campaign materials against the cap.  In November 2006, voters overturned the cap by a very narrow margin of 51 to 49  percent. See “Big Boxes on the Ballot” for more details on the vote.

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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.