The city of Franklin, Wisconsin became the first community in Milwaukee County to place a limit on the size of retail buildings — but only the latest in a growing number of places nationwide that are taking this simple step to curtail big box sprawl. The Franklin Common Council voted on July 13th. unanimously (5-0)to adopt an amendment to its Unified Development Ordinance that limits the size of retail buildings to 125,000 square feet in all areas of the city except the S. 27th St. corridor. The Council vote followed the recommendation of the city’s Plan Commission, which endorsed the size cap last week. The size limit had “overwhelming support”, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, from Franklin residents who had opposed Wal-Mart plans for a 184,000 s.f. supercenter on a 30 acre parcel on Highway 100. Wal-Mart opponents collected 1,938 signatures on a petition supporting the ordinance. The prospect of a Supercenter sparked such intense opposition, that the city imposed a six-month moratorium last February to update the part of its master plan. Wal-Mart’s proposal for Franklin was not formally presented to the city, but all it took was the shadow of a supercenter to galvanize public opposition to the plan. The Journal Sentinel reported that when the city imposed the moratorium, the property owners of the parcel Wal-Mart eyed then sued the city seeking $7 million in damages, charging that the temporary moratorium in the area pushed Wal-Mart away. Big box opponents warned that a Wal-Mart supercenter would increase traffic, air and noise pollution, create public safety concerns, cause loss of green space and do damage to smaller, community-based retailers.
Franklin is not the first community in Wisconsin to put a cap on the size of retail buildings. Grafton imposes “extra scrutiny” on developments larger than 50,000 square feet, and Mequon requires businesses over 20,000 square feet to prove they would serve a public interest. In Hartford, Wisconsin, stricter design guidelines start at 30,000 and 40,000 square feet, depending on the location. Stoughton, Wisconsin has a limit currently of 110,000 s.f, but big box supporters are trying to raise that level to accomodate the larger Wal-Mart stores. For more examples of caps across the country, search this database by “caps.” To find out how to get a “cap” program going in your town, contact [email protected]