Oct 26 2011

Banning new big boxes

Published by at 3:13 pm under Washington

Hot times in Tacoma over big boxes: The city council is considering a moratorium on approving construction of new stores over 65,000 square feet in size. Continuing a moratorium, that is – the original six-month ban started on August 30, when the city council declared an emergency.

The council held a hearing on the moratorium on Tuesday night, and the circumstances were such (especially in this environment of encouraging any and all new businesses) that anti-moratorium arguments should have been at a peak. If they were, the big boxers should be concerned: Testimony was overwhelmingly in favor of continuing the ban, and quite a few speakers wanted to make it permanent.

(A quote from one resident: “If we are to build a resilient community that will not just survive but thrive … we need to think outside the big box and think inside the circle of community.”)

A Walmart application was the specific trigger for the action, but it would apply to any retailer seeking to build upwards of 65,000 square feet.

One of the opponents of the moratorium, as you might expect, is the Tacoma Chamber of Commerce, which bases its position in part “on there being an emergency because our regulations fail to address some issue. I’ve yet to hear any specific issue raised that is not addressable through existing regulations. Traffic, public services, parking – all there. Now, just because a tool is there does not mean it’s going to be used. But failing to use it does not mean it is not there.”

That sounds true enough, but it’s a bit of a legalistic approach: Evidently quite a few people seemed to think there was, as a practical matter, an emergency. Or at least the need for a slowdown, and consideration of whether new big boxes really add to the economy, or just move money around, and into ever-fewer hands.

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