The very visible and costly proliferation of “dead” big box stores that are littering American highways has caused some communities to try and deter the construction of huge retail buildings that will sit empty within a decade. Wal-Mart euphemistically calls their 400 empty buildings “dark stores”, like something out of a George Lucas film, but many communities don’t want them anymore, and are taking action to force developers to tear down what they put up. In February of 2001, the township of Buckingham, Pennsylvania enacted a zoning ordinance that limits stores to no greater than 35,000 s.f. But the community went further. The developer has to submit a market analysis showing there is a “market for the proposal facility from which patrons will be attracted”, and, for any store larger than 10,000 s.f. “as part of the land development agreement,,,provisions shall be made for the removal or adaptive resuse of the structure by the applicant should the facility not be used for a period of 12 consecutive months. Financial security may be required by the township.” “It protects the township against blight,” said Max Weisman, the township manager. “It’s for revitalization.” Now word comes that the city of Charlotte, North Carolina, already seriously marked by sprawl, is considering a similar plan. A recent report found that the city has 30 empty big box stores in the trade area. The Charlotte Observer reports that city planners have proposed a zoning ordinance that would require two things: 1) a developer must provide the financial means to tear down their building if their store closes and remains empty, and 2) big boxes must be part of a larger, mixed use development of stores, offices and apartments. “We’re not going to accept some corporate, logo-stamped design,” the newpaper quoted Charlotte Planning Director Martin Crampton as saying. “My attitude is, let them go someplace else.” One of the solutions proposed by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission was to require developers to put up a bond, or place money in escrow when they build a big box. If the store closes and stays empty long enough, the city would take the escrow money and use it to tear down the site for redevelopment. The concept is being called a “Demolition Bond”. In Buckingham, PA, the idea is simply called the “abandonment program”. Planners in Charlotte are already talking with two developers about a demolition bond. Such local responses may finally begin to throw some light on the “dark store” problem.
For more information on the Charlotte ordinance or the Buckingham law, contact [email protected] For more stories on the empty box syndrome, search this database by the words “empty box”.