A Superior Court judge in Georgia has sided with the town of Peachtree City, Georgia (see earlier stories), which has adopted a land use ordinance limiting the size of all retail buildings. Unlike zoning laws being proposed in California, which limit the internal square footage of grocery sales only, this “cap” in Peachtree City limits retail buildings to 32,000 s.f., and restricts regional stores to one area in town. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, a developer — Faison Enterprises of North Carolina and Peachtree City Holdings — has sued the city, claiming that its zoning provision limiting store size is arbitrary. The developer wants to build a Target, which is four times larger than the size cap in place, and argues that the city law says only “tenants” are subject to the size cap, and Target should be exempt, because Target will own the site, not be a tenant. But Judge Christopher Edwards said, “I cannot imagine that it was the legislative intent to leave out owners.” The Peachtree City code has been in effect since 2000. Neighbors opposed to the Target have joined the lawsuit in support of the city. Although this first round of the case went against the developer, because the Judge ruled that Target is not exempt from the ordinance, the case will continue later this month on the merits of the law.
More and more communities across the country are stopping big box retailers with one sentence in their zoning code that limits the size of stores. Such ordinances don’t prevent these companies from doing business, just make them conform with the scale of the surrounding built environment. As long as the city has stated the reasons for the ordinance — which it did in the preamble to the law — it should be on solid legal ground, because state enabling legislation allows local communities to regulate the location, size and use of land through zoning. Size caps can be used to limit the intensity of land use to make it compatible with the scale and character of a community. I am not aware of any legal challenge against a size cap that has been won by a developer. For a similar story, search this database by “Lower Gwynned”.