In Turlock, California, the city’s Planning Commission on November 20th. voted 5-0 to place a ban on certain large discount stores, which would impact a “supercenter” planned by Wal-Mart. According to the Turlock Journal, the unanimous vote was taken in front of a packed hearing room with 150 people. The Commission vote now has to go to the City Council for a binding vote. The zoning change bars new or expanding discount stores that exceed 100,000 square feet and devote at least 5 percent of the space to groceries and other nontaxable items. Wal-Mart immediately denounced the vote. “This particular ordinance as proposed would be anti-consumer, anti-choice and not in the best interest of the community at large,” said Peter Kanelos, community affairs manager at the Wal-Mart offices in San Diego. The City council will take up the proposal on December 9th. Turlock already has a Wal-Mart discount store, which presumably would be shut down if the larger store is built. The existing Wal-Mart is 3 times the size of a football field and only 10 years old. Wal-Mart leases for such stores prohibit them from being used as a grocery store or discount/drug store. One resident said Wal-Mart already has too large a share of the grocery and drug market. A local real estate person involved in developing the current Wal-Mart store disputed charges that Wal-Mart would hurt the downtown. “I want to urge some caution in some of these doomsday claims that are being made,” he said. Critics of the supercenter said its profit would leave the community and its low-paid workers would have little to spend on the local economy. A report from the city planning staff said a typical household makes two or three trips to a grocery store per week. This causes few problems if the store is nearby, the report said, but traffic flow and air quality would suffer if the trips were across town to a supercenter. “I think what we have here is a Trojan horse,” one Commissioner said of the supercenter idea, “and we should be careful of what box we try to open.”
This particular limit on the internal square footage of non-taxable sales affects only stores like Wal-Mart and Costco. It does not affect Home Depot, Lowe’s, etc. That is a drawback. In addition, a pure size limit on retail buildings is more legally sound than only singling out stores with grocery sales. Wal-Mart is challenging several of these ordinances in court now — but the simpler limit on the size of buildings accomplishes the same end result, impacts all big boxes, and is easy to defend legally. Cities and town have the right to limit the scale of a building and limit the impacts on the character of a community. Governor Gray Davis vetoed a state version of this kind of non-taxabale limit a couple of years ago, forcing supporters to go city by city to get these limits passed. Size limits on any big box have not been overturned in the courts. For more examples of these size limits, search this database by “caps” or “size limits”.