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2003-12-06
Stoughton, WI. City Considers Building Size Limit & Demolition of Empty Stores

The Common Council of Stoughton, Wisconsin is considering a "big box ordinance" to add to its zoning code. The purpose of the zoning change is to "ensure that large retail and commercial service buildings are properly located," and that they are "compatible with the surrounding area and the overall community character of the city." The proposed zoning ordinance requires all retail buildings in excess of 20,000 s.f. to obtain a "conditional use permit", which gives the town more control over such plans than in the standard site plan review process. Such buildings would have to pass a list of 22 standards, including compatibility with city plans, location, building materials, design, entrances, building color, screening, traffic impacts, parking, pedestrian and bicycle facilities, outdoor display areas, landscaping, signage,noise, natural resource protection, etc. A number of the standards are vague and minimal, but they would require developers to conduct a community impact analysis, a detailed economic and fiscal impact analysis, an independent traffic study, etc. With the exception of the traffic study, most of the reports would be done by the developer, which renders the studies useless. But the most interesting part of the proposed ordinance comes at the end: Policy on Vacation of Existing Sites. The Council would require developers who are leaving one site in the city for a replacement location to "prohibit any privately imposed limits on the type or reuse of the previously occupied building through conditions of sale or lease." Wal-Mart, for example, has a standard letter of intent that requires anyone leasing its empty stores to pledge not to use it for a discount store, a warehouse club or a pharmacy. Such a policy would be illegal in Stoughton. But the proposed code adds the following: "If the building remains vacant of a permanent occupant for more than 96 months, the city may order the property owner to demolish the building and restore the site to 'greenfield' status, as defined by the removal of all buildings, foundations, pavement, concrete, light fixtures, signage, and materials and including the establishment of permanent turf on the site." The city would require the developer to include a "developer commitment" to this requirement. The last section of the ordinance puts an absolute building area cap in place: "No individual building shall exceed a total of 100,000 square feet in gross floor area."

What you can do: Your hometown probably needs an ordinance like the one Stoughton is considering. Although the proposed Stoughton ordinance has some weak areas, such as asking the developer to produce his own reports, allowing outdoor sales, not defining what a community impact analysis really is, allowing any kind of building materials, and weak design restrictions on signs, noise and lighting -- the ordinance is a vast improvement over the city's current code. The policy on vacant buildings, and the size cap are an excellent start to restricting growth that is out of character with this small Wisconsin community. The city originally begain with a 36 month limit on empty buildings, but weakened it seriously by moving to an 8 year limit. They would do better to go down to 36 months. For a copy of the draft code, or local contacts in Stoughton, email info@sprawl-busters.com










 
 
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