What would this country be like if we didn’t have people willing to stand up for the Big Guy? When the Clark County Commissioners voted last week 3-2 to approve a new zoning ordinance that says any store larger than 110,000 s.f. must limit its non-taxable sales to 7,500 s.f., a spontaneous group sprung to life to fight against this hardship to stores like beleagured Wal-Mart. A group called “Citizens for Competition”, headed by a person described as a “political consultant” has begun a petition drive to challenge the vote of the County Commission. According to the Las Vegas Sun, the citizens group is also being prompted by a talk show host, and the former executive director of the Nevada Republican Party. A rally to help gather the 25,760 signatures needed to put the issue before voters was being organized by the petition leaders. “Wal-Mart is not doing this,” assured Dan Burdish, former director of the Nevada Republicans. But Wal-Mart HAS threatened to file a lawsuit against the ordinance, and HAS been running what the Sun called an “ad blitz” against the measure. The public is being told that the superstore ordinance limits their freedom of choice, and that government should not regulate commerce. The Las Vegas ordinance was apparently sized so that it would not affect Costco clubs. Although the ordinance does not prevent Wal-Mart from building 109,000 s.f. supercenters (which is nearly two and a half times larger than a football field), the public is being told that the practical effect of the measure is that they can’t shop at Wal-Mart. The Las Vegas ordinance is similar to one passed in Tucson, AZ recently (see newsflash below) and to one vetoed by California Governor Gray Davis. One of the Citizens for Competition organizers said that voters are “furious the government would decide where they can and cannot shop”, which is not what the ordinance does at all.
There is a dirty little six letter secret in Las Vegas that developers don’t want to talk about. It’s called zoning, and it gives the local community the police powers to limit the size, location and intensity of land use anywhere in the city.(See the story about the proposed Westlake, OH ordinance below). Zoning is the only law that prevents me from building a crematorium next door to my neighbor’s home, or from building a 200,000 s.f. Wal-Mart next to an elementary school. Communities all across the country are updating their zoning laws to deal with over-sized retail giants. A number of towns have simply placed a cap on the size of buildings, much more “radical” than what is proposed in Las Vegas. All the Clark County ordinance does is limit one very large format style. The average Wal-Mart today is smaller than 100,000 s.f. Consumers could still shop at a Wal-Mart. No one has taken away the important “right to shop”. All that is changed in Las Vegas is that land intensity is being defined, so that the unlimited now has a limit. County government isn’t telling anyone where to shop. Las Vegas already has plenty of Wal-Marts and Costco to choose from. As for the charge that government shouldn’t be involved in commerce, I’d be willing to see the County drop their ordinance if the federal government would stop giving multi-million tax breaks to corporations. People forget that government intervention, everything from the Federal Reserve to tax exemptions, are designed to promote business development. Wal-Mart could build — and does build — superstores under 110,000s.f. Ten years ago that would have seemed like an enormous store, even for Wal-Mart. Want to let the “Citizens for Competition” know that Wal-Mart is not the beginning of competition, but the end of competition? You can email them at [email protected] Tell them to keep standing up for the Big Guy!