By a wide margin, the Vermont Senate endorsed a bill that would require any proposed big-box store in the state to undergo an economic and community impact analysis. The analysis would provide local officials with information about a store’s projected effects on employment, public costs, and downtown vitality before they decide whether to approve or reject the development.
The bill (S. 175) applies to any proposed retail store over 75,000 square feet, about half the size of a typical Home Depot or Target store. It mandates that the developer cover the cost of the impact study, which would be conducted by an independent consultant chosen by the town.
The legislation expressly calls for the study to consider both the local and the regional impacts of the store. It requires that the study be completed and distributed to adjacent municipalities at least 15 days prior to the final public hearing on the proposed project.
Under the legislation, the study must estimate the impact of the superstore on employment, including both jobs created by the store and jobs destroyed at competing businesses; property values; public services costs; traffic; the character of the area; and the vitality of nearby downtowns and village centers.
The study must also estimate “how much revenue generated by the project will be retained and redirected into the economy of the community and the region”?a provision that would seem to favor independent businesses, which source a much larger share of goods and services locally.
The legislation was inspired in part by an ordinance enacted in Bennington, Vermont, after Wal-Mart announced interest in building a supercenter. That ordinance was later overturned by a referendum vote in which Wal-Mart spent heavily to defeat the law.
The bill now moves to the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, where it is being championed by committee member Rep. Joseph Krawczyk, a Republican from Bennington.
Wal-Mart is pushing to open several supercenters across Vermont. It has encountered grassroots opposition to most of these projects. Under current law, large-scale commercial development proposals must be approved both by the host town and a regional commission that weighs the environmental and fiscal impacts of development under Vermont’s Act 250. If enacted, this legislation would add an additional layer of review focused more on the economic and community impacts.