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2007-10-23
Hilo, HI. Cap On Superstores Size To Be Refiled

Is Hawaii's Big Island becoming a Big Box paradise? There are five counties in the state of Hawaii, and big box controversy has boiled over on at least three of them. The latest is Hawaii County. On September 5, 2007, Sprawl-Busters reported that on the island of Maui, Hawaii, the Maui County Council Planning Committee had taken an initial step on legislation that would amend the county's zoning laws to prohibit large discount retailers. The committee recommended that a bill to prohibit superstores in Maui County should be forwarded to the three county planning commissions for review as well as to the Hana Advisory Committee, the Maui Planning Commission and the Maui County Cultural Resources Commission. The Council's Chairman introduced the bill when he became aware that other counties in the state were working on similar legislation. In Kaua'i County, the Council in May, 2007 approved a law prohibiting retail or wholesale store larger than 75,000 s.f. Kaua'i was the first in the state to implement a ban on large stores. In Hilo, in Hawaii county, the County Council recently rejected a "big box" ordinance. According to the Associated Press, the idea of restricting superstores has created "divided opinions" on the Big Island. Hawaii County Council Chairman Peter Hoffmann has told reporters that he will file a new bill soon that would ban all "big box" stores on the island. There are already 7 big box stores on the Big Island which will be "grandfathered" in even if a new law is passed: two Wal-Marts, two Home Depots, a Lowe's, Kmart and a Costco. Most of the anti big box sentiment has focused on Wal-Mart. "Unfortunately, they're the whipping boy," Chairman Hoffmann told the AP. Hoffmann's first proposal would have prohibited superstores larger than 90,000 s.f. that have more than 20,000 s.f. for groceries and more than 25,000 items. But several council members pointed out that those limits could easily be avoided, and the bill would be unenforceable. But Councilors were more swayed by public testimony that favored "customer choice." Ironically, stores like Wal-Mart reduce customer choice by thinning out the marketplace of smaller competitors. "I don't think government should tell you where to spend that disposable income," one Councilman said, forgetting that this is a zoning debate, not a 'shopper's rights' issue. Wal-Mart has been approved by the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands to build a store on their property, but many Native Hawaiians have protested that Home Lands property should not be used for commercial purposes. Hoffmann's bill was amended to prohibit superstores only on DHHL land, which made the bill so narrow as to be largely symbolic. Wal-Mart has been negotiating to build a superstore on DHHL land right behind the existing Hilo Wal-Mart. The retailer would pay DHHL $500,000 per year to lease the land. Native Hawaiians protested the original Wal-Mart store two decades ago when it was being built, and people were arrested during demonstrations there. Residents today are not sure if the county's commercial and industrial zoning regulations apply to DHHL property. The lawyer for the Hawaii County Corporation told the AP that Hoffman's bill, "although well intended, runs afoul of equal protection of law concerns, and would likely be vulnerable to legal challenge."

What you can do: The Hawaiian limit on superstore size is based on the "California cap" model ordinance that has been widely implemented in many California communities. The "cap" law limits total store size -- but only for stores that have grocery components. On the east coast of the U.S., cap laws have focused simply on store size, and not complicated the matter with what gets sold inside. The east coast cap affects stores like Home Depot and Lowes, not just grocery superstores like Wal-Mart. The California cap does not. State and federal courts have already left such cap laws intact when challenged by Wal-Mart. Not a single cap law has been overturned by the courts. So the Hoffman bill is probably not vulnerable to legal challenge. But if the Councilors passed a simple size cap, they would avoid completely the problem of equal protection. Readers are urged to contact Hawaii County Council Chairman Pete Hoffman at 808-887-2069, or by email: phoffmann@co.hawaii.hi.us. Tell Hoffman, "Continue pushing for a cap on the size of superstores. But just limit the size, and don't worry about interior square footage. Hawaii County should limit the scale of all big retail projects, regardless of what's being sold." For examples of cap ordinances now in existence, go to www.walmartwatch.com/battlemart, and search by 'cap.'










 
 
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