Controlling the Big Box: Size Caps and Dark Stores

Recognizing that the City's zoning code was unable to control mega-stores such as Walmart, on January 7 the Moscow City Council enacted zoning regulations specifically for big box stores. The Council, acting under a strict time restriction to adopt the new ordinance, left several items for future amendments. These include: a cap on the maximum size of a big box store, how close together such stores can be sited (particularly if owned by one retailer) and "dark store" provisions to ensure a vacant big box does not become a community eyesore or liability. On April 12, the Planning and Zoning Commission received a request from the City Council to propose amendments on these three items. P&Z held a public workshop on these issues on May 10 at which NoSuperWalmart provided several recommendations:
1) establish a size cap of 100,000 square foot of retail floor space.
2) limit aggregation of big boxes owned by the same retailer to the limit of the size cap.
3) establish a subcommittee to develop the more complex dark store provisions.
(see 5/5/06 memo from Mark Solomon to P&Z)
At the May 10 meeting, P&Z established a subcommittee to prepare dark store recommendations. The Moscow Chamber of Commerce volunteered to host a committee to examine size caps and to "game" how the existing ordinance works in the "real " world. Representatives from NoSuperWalmart have been invited to participate on each committee. The committees are to report back to P&Z no later than the end of July with a public hearing on the proposals expected to be held in early August.

Why do we need a size cap?

Simply put, it's a matter of scale. The largest retail space in Moscow is the existing Walmart at 93,000 square foot. Tri-State is 60,000 square foot. The empty Tidyman's building is 43,000 square foot. Bigger is not better, it's just bigger and out of character with Moscow's small town feel. The proposed Super Walmart would be 223,000 square foot or bigger than the existing Walmart, Tri-State and Tidyman's combined!

What is "aggregation" and why is it important?

In other communities where size caps have been enacted, some retailers have tried to avoid the cap by building two "separate" buildings very close to each other. An "aggregation" limit prevents this sleight of hand.

What is a "dark store"?

Tidyman Big Box Dark Store

Dark stores are big boxes that have been abandoned by their owners. They often occur when a retailer builds a newer/larger store close to their existing store and then close the older one. Retailers often prefer to keep these abandoned stores empty rather than allow a possible competitor to occupy the space. Walmart has over 25 million square foot of dark stores across the country. Dark stores create enormous holes in neighborhoods with their empty spaces and abandoned parking lots. Some dark store measures adopted by other cities include re-use plans, forfeiture of the property if vacant for a certain period, and bonds to cover demolition or renovation costs.

Copies of the City Large Retail Establishment Ordinance and accompanying Resolution and Design Manual are available to download in PDF format from the City's website:

Retail Caps for Retail Glut- Smart Growth Tools for Main Street (pdf)

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The inaugural issue of Wal-Mart Watch's issue paper, In Depth, focuses on gender discrimination at Wal-Mart and the massive class action lawsuit female employees are waging against the company. More info, or download Spring 2007 issue (pdf).

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[ This is not a group to debate the merits of a SuperWalmart in Moscow
The intention of the group is to defeat a Super Walmart project.

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