Wal-Mart officials have told the media that they are dropping plans in Dunkirk, Maryland to build two smaller stores side by side to get under a size cap on buildings. Sprawl-Busters reported in an earlier story that county officials were stunned when Wal-Mart tried to avoid Calvert County’s building cap of 75,000 s.f. by building two smaller stores instead of one larger building. The Wal-Mart move was seen as a concerted effort to play games with the county’s land use goals. Wal-Mart told the Washington Post today that it was dropping the two store plan “in the face of widespread opposition from residents and local officials,” the newspaper said. As originally proposed, Wal-Mart would haved built two stores, each with its own entrance and cash registers — with a total square footage 30% larger than the 75,000 s.f. cap.The Post quoted Al Norman as saying, “I’ve gotten calls across the country from people worried about what I call ‘the Dunkirk loophole. I’m glad Wal-Mart realizes it’s in their own political and financial interest not to play games with ordinances by trying to wordsmith their way around size caps.” Wal-Mart now says it will ask the county next month for permission to build a 74,998 s.f. store, leaving off the 22,689 s.f. garden center. “This is a direct response to the community outcry,” a Wal-Mart spokesman told the Post. Although Wal-Mart told the newspaper that it was unaware of plans elsewhere in the county to build side-by-side stores, Sprawl-Busters has heard from activists in nearby Chestertown, Maryland, which has been fighting off Wal-Mart for more than a decade, that they are concerned Wal-Mart will try to build a separate garden center there to limbo under the size cap. Calvert County officials have been researching ways to prohibit side by side stores in the future, as a number of other communities, like Hailey, Idaho, have done. Legislation was recently introduced in Philadelphia that would count side by side stores as one if they were under the same management control, along with other factors. In the Dunkirk case, the developer, Faison Enterprises of Charlotte, North Carolina, told the Post that Wal-Mart got impatient waiting for county approval, and decided to move ahead with the smaller store. “They’d rather get in with a 75,000-square-foot store than no store at all,” the developer explained. .
If the report from Chestertown, Maryland is correct, Wal-Mart is not done trying to play games with local zoning caps. Communities have the power to classify two stores within 2,000 feet of one another, for example, as one unit. Local ordinances do not have to get into the area of what constitutes “common ownership”. They can simply state that “for the purposes of this ordinance, two stores built within 2,000 feet of one another shall be considered as one unit for the purpose of calculating the limit on building size.” For earlier stories on this subject, search Newsflash by “Calver County” or “caps.”