The city of Rockville, MD has voted to step away from big box retail development for six months and reassess its development plans. City staff will use the next six months to evaluate the effects of big stores and come up with design guidelines and new zoning regulations. Mayor Rose Krasnow said “we were very concerned about statements from more than one developer that they were interested in bringing big box stores to Rockville.” Case in point: a 135,000 s.f. Costco warehouse store planned for Rockville Pike, one of the worst traffic areas in the community. In addition to traffic, the city is concerned about the boxy appearance of the superstores, as well as the problems created if these stores are ever vacated. “If these (stores) go away,” said the Kathy Mitchell, the Director of Community Planning for the city, “the city will be left with large unusable box stores — a market nightmare.” The developer for the Costco submitted plans to make the huge store less visible by putting other retail stores in front of it, and Costco tried to argue that it attracts less traffic than a typical grocery store because Costco shoppers only shop at the store once every two weeks. Costco claimed their store would bring up to 250 new jobs to Rockville — a gross figure, without netting out any lost jobs at other stores. The developer’s lawyers pleaded with the city not to impose a six month ban, according to the Rockville Gazette newspaper. The lawyer said a 6 month delay would cost Costco $60 million. But the City Council voted unanimously to impose the ban. Councilman Glennon Harrison said simply: “A moratorium, immediate and complete, is both conservative and prudent.” Mayor Krasnow was quoted in the Washington Post as saying that big box stores “aesthetically…tend not to be attractive. I was just up in Baltimore last week and saw one up there that was horrible.” The Council’s vote took place October 11th, and gives local residents a breather from the chain stores until April 10, 2000.
Developers in this case, according to newspaper accounts, are saying that a 135,000 s.f. store could be largely hidden behind a ring of other retail stores built around the parcel’s perimeter. That’s like trying to hide a nuclear waste dump behind a picket fence. Everybody still knows its there. Many communities have enacted short-term moratoriums. Even six months is a very short time for city staff to come up with proposed zoning changes. Communities like Fort Collins, CO, which is often cited as an example of a city which enacted a moratorium, came up with nice design review guidelines, but that did nothing to stop big box sprawl, which is hardly hidden in Fort Collins anymore. For more information about moratoriums, contact sprawl-busters.