The City of Cayce, South Carolina, which lies along the Congaree River, includes the site of one of the earliest European settlements in what was then known as the “back country.” Cayce also contains the site of Fort Granby, where several important Revolutionary War battles were fought. Today, Cayce is the home of more than 12,100 people. “Linked to the interstate system at multiple points,” according to the city’s website, “and adjacent to the international airport, Cayce offers quick access to jobs, shopping, entertainment and the world.” Because of Cayce’s convenient location, city officials were worried that big box stores would eventually come there too. According to The Sun News, Cayce has voted to take some very small steps to regulate big boxes. Cayce has amended city zoning aimed at retailers such as Wal-Mart superstores, Target, Kohl’s, Sam’s Club and others. “We are not trying to restrict them from coming into the city,” said the city’s planning and development director. “We are trying to get a better class of development.” The City Council recently voted unanimously to add additional regulations on retail stores with more than 90,000 s.f. and any group of buildings exceeding 175,000 s.f. The ordinance gives the community more say over project aesthetics, like landscaping and lighting. The city’s planning commission spent months discussing the impact future retail development could have on residential and commercial areas. A Wal-Mart spokesman told The Sun News that the retailer is designing stores to fit in with the surrounding community. “We are following along with what already exists in communities. Municipalities want more and deserve more.” Wal-Mart said they have built a store that looks like a “log cabin and lodge,” the newpaper said, and includes a “church steeple in some store designs around the country.” The Mayor of Cayce says the new ordinance is designed to keep all developments compatible with the city. “We look at this as an opportunity to have the proper zoning as they come our way,” said Cayce Mayor Avery Wilkerson Jr. “We want to make sure that we don’t have something thrown up that doesn’t fit in our community.” Among Cayce’s new zoning rules: outdoor sales can only happen in designated areas; there must be pedestrian walkways within parking lots; there must be buffer zones required adjacent to residential areas; overnight and long-term truck parking is limited to designated areas at the rear of the store; and lighting is limited to 40 feet in height and shielded when adjacent to residential areas.
Cayce’s “big box” ordinance changes are, in fact, no problem to Wal-Mart, or any other big box developer. These provisions fall far short of providing any meaningful protections for Cayce, or residential homeowners near a big box site. Such items as outdoor sales, overnight parking — these things have been banned in many cities and towns across the country for years. They are minor concessions that companies like Wal-Mart can make without even checking back with the head office. Lighting limits like those proposed for Cayce don’t amount to much, since the overall impact of a huge superstore makes the project site look like a space shuttle landing strip. The Mayor of Cayce is making a big mistake if he thinks these small changes will protect the historic character and charm of his small city. What Cayce needs to do can be done in one sentence: limit the size of retail stores to 90,000 s.f. The “aesthetic” changes the Mayor has embraced amount to little more than lipstick on a hippopotamus. This is a “faux” big box ordinance, and will do more to harm Cayce than help it, because residents will think they have gained some meaningful control over what the city’s Planning Director calls a “better class of development.” Readers are urged to leave a message for Cayce Mayor Avery B. Wilkerson, Jr. by calling 803-796-9020, or sending an email to [email protected] Tell the Mayor: “Cayce deserves the real protection of a size cap on big box retail stores. Your zoning ordinance changes will not change the nature of a Wal-Mart — unless you put a firm cap on the size of buildings. Wal-Mart and back country charm just don’t mix.”