Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Walmart: Montgomery County Gazette edition

Image: a Walmart Neighborhood Market in Downtown Chicago.

For the most part, the Washington Post rolled over on Walmart, with favorable editorials and news coverage, as Walmart announced plans (and is now executing those plans) to enter the DC market. I have a bunch of entries on the topic...

Interestingly enough, the Gazette newspapers are owned by the Washington Post, although they are under separate management, and the Gazette appears to be much more critical about the potential for Walmart's entry into Aspen Hill and in Montgomery County than the Post was about Walmart entry into the city.

At least the editorial mentions "community benefits agreements" with some respect, even while cautioning against "overburdening" businesses. From the article:

County Council President Valerie Ervin has proposed a bill that could ameliorate any negative impact a Walmart might bring. Introduced Friday, it would require community-benefits agreements for retailers locating in Montgomery County that have indoor retail space of 75,000 square feet or larger. According to the Food Marketing Institute, the median size of a grocery store in 2010 was 46,000 square feet.

The agreements function as contracts that establish benefits communities receive from the development, such as provisions covering living wages, local hiring and training programs, affordable housing, environmental remediation, open space designations, operating hours, security, deliveries and traffic mitigation, among other things.

Those benefits are clear (the first community benefits agreements were negotiated in California in the early 2000s), and similar laws have proven effective for residential expansion, but legislators must be cautious to avoid overburdening businesses with prohibitive costs that would deter commercial growth.

While the bill is a good step toward ensuring the vision for Aspen Hill remains intact and that development conforms with the long-term planning process, it could put too many restrictions in the path of future retailers.

The biggest lesson that communities should take from Walmart's entry into big cities such as DC and Chicago is that you should put into place as soon as possible, big box review ordinances, in order to have in advance the more fine grained tools that communities need to deal with such developments.

Introducing such ordinances after proposals are made by big box companies to enter your market is too late. (Unless they choose properties which require zoning changes, which forces public hearings. In DC, for the most part, Walmart chose sites that already allowed them to do what they wanted to do with minimal public input.)

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