Tuolumne County Caps the Size of Retail Stores

Date: 1 Feb 2004 | posted in: Retail | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Before a standing-room-only crowd, the Tuolumne County, California, Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in January to ban retail outlets over 60,000 square feet, about half the size of the average Home Depot store.

The vote came after several months of review and more than two hours of public testimony in which residents overwhelmingly endorsed the measure. “Towns that have resisted the boxes have a vital diverse downtown business climate,” one resident told the board. Large chains, she said, are causing a “loss of American entrepreneurial spirit.”

In addition to capping the size of retail stores, the ordinance requires that proposals for stores between 25,000 and 60,000 square feet obtain a conditional use permit. Approval hinges on demonstrating that the development will be compatible with surrounding buildings and the natural landscape.

Tuolumne County is located in central California and has a population of 56,000. The ordinance applies to unincorporated areas beyond town boundaries. Tuolumne’s largest town, Sonora, will discuss enacting its own big box regulations in March.

Over the last couple of years, developers have expressed increased interest in building superstores in Tuolumne County. In response to a proposed 120,000-square-foot Home Depot store, County Supervisor Jim Peterson initiated a discussion about regulating large-scale development. A grassroots group, Citizens for Responsible Growth (CRG), endorsed the idea of limiting large retailers and worked to get an ordinance drafted and approved.

In comments to the Board of Supervisors, CRD said that allowing the county to be overtaken by a handful of large chains would destabilize the local economy. Small retailers spend more money with other local businesses and are more invested in the community, the group argued.

CRD presented the county with several policy options, many of them drawn from the New Rules web site. The county chose the 60,000-square-foot limit based on the size of existing retailers. The new ordinance effectively blocks construction of the proposed Home Depot.

— Examples of size cap ordinances, including Tuolumne County’s.
How big is too big?

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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.