Vancouver Weighs Big-Box Limits

Date: 2 Aug 2004 | posted in: Retail | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

The city of Vancouver, Canada, has banned big-box stores in one neighborhood and is studying the possibility of a citywide store size cap

In July, the City Council voted to limit retail stores in the Kitsilano neighborhood on the west side of the city to no more than 10,000 square feet, except for grocery stores and pharmacies, which are allowed up to 30,000 square feet.

The move blocks an attempt by Home Depot to build a 72,000-square-foot store covering nearly an entire city block. The development was strongly opposed by many residents, community organizations, and independent business owners. More than 5,000 people signed a petition urging the city to reject the project.

At a neighborhood meeting organized by city planning staff in March, written comments submitted by 500 people overwhelmingly opposed the Home Depot and favored establishing a store size cap to preserve the area’s small-scale businesses and pedestrian orientation.

In a report prepared for the City Council, the planning staff recommended restricting retail stores in the neighborhood to 40,000 square feet. But after taking two nights of testimony from neighborhood residents who preferred a lower limit, the Council voted for a 10,000-square-foot cap.

The City Council also approved a motion by Councilor Anne Roberts directing city staff to report on adopting store size caps throughout the city as a way to “sustain the vitality of small-scale, pedestrian-oriented neighbourhood shopping centres; preserve locally-owned businesses; protect the unique character of local shopping areas; reduce retail sprawl; and reduce dependency on the automobile.”

Roberts has suggested either a citywide cap or individual caps of varying sizes covering each of Vancouver’s neighborhoods except for the downtown.

In an op-ed for the Vancouver Sun, she writes that a size cap would foster both a more sustainable and a more prosperous city: “Ten smaller shops with doors and windows along the block creates a more pedestrian-friendly environment [than a single big-box store]. Ten smaller shops attract neighbourhood residents to walk to shops on a daily or weekly basis. Ten smaller shops are likely to be locally owned and money spent there is likely to re-circulate throughout the local economy.”

Roberts was one of several new councilors elected in 2002 partly in response to growing concerns about large-scale chain stores. A proposal by Wal-Mart to build a 130,000-square-foot superstore in Vancouver has been stalled for nearly four years.


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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.