If a new ordinance limiting big-box retail development in the town of Bennington, Vermont, is endorsed by voters in an April referendum, two lawmakers say they will introduce bills to extend those restrictions statewide.
In January, the Bennington Select Board voted unanimously to ban stores over 75,000 square feet and to require retail development projects larger than 30,000 square feet to pass a community impact review.
An Ohio-based developer who wants to build a 112,000-square-foot Wal-Mart superstore in Bennington gathered enough petition signatures to force a vote on the new bylaw. The referendum will be held April 5.
If the voters approve the restrictions, Rep. Joseph Krawczyk Jr., a Republican from Bennington who also serves on the town’s select board, and Sen. Vince Illuzzi, a Republican representing the northeastern part of the state, say they will push for legislation that would require all Vermont towns to adopt size limits and community impact standards.
As drafted, the law would initially apply Bennington’s standards to every community. Towns would then have the option of revising the rules by, for example, altering the size of the cap or imposing a different set of impact criteria.
“I don’t want to have a one-size-fits-all law,” said Rep. Krawczyk, adding that he strongly supports local authority. But he believes communities need to be prompted to address the issue of big-box retail proactively in their planning policies. “The key is don’t wait until Target, Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, and Home Depot come knocking. Once it’s there, it’s there and you are stuck with it.”
Should Bennington’s voters reject the town’s big-box ordinance, Rep. Krawczyk says he will respect the voice of his constituents and not pursue statewide legislation.
Bennington’s ordinance calls for submitting any projects over 30,000 square feet to an impact review that would weigh the number of jobs created by the store versus jobs lost at existing businesses, the store’s impact on the cost of public services, how much revenue generated by the store would be retained and re-directed back into the local economy, and any tax revenue losses resulting from a decline in the downtown or other commercial areas.
Under the ordinance, city officials may approve stores only if the review determines that they will not have an adverse impact on the community.
Wal-Mart announced plans to open several supercenters across Vermont last year. Citizens have been fighting the projects and several communities are considering big-box ordinances.
“[The state legislation] elevates the issue in a way that’s quite useful,” said Paul Bruhn, who directs the Preservation Trust of Vermont and is advocate for the state’s downtowns.
In Bennington, supporters of the big-box restrictions are emphasizing the importance of maintaining competition by not allowing one large store to dominate the local market. They are also working hard to turn out the vote.