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2000-12-23
Glendale, AZ. City Passes Big Box Limits

Big box retailers were 3 time losers this week, as the city of Glendale, Arizona went "outside of the box" to control the proliferation of over-sized retailers. On December 19th, the Glendale City Couoncil voted unanimously to impose a limit on a parcel of land at 51st and Olive Avenue. According to the Arizona Republic newspaper, the Council stipulated that no major tenant on that parcel could stay open between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am, and no tenant could build larger than a 90,000 s.f. limit. This didn't sit too well with the landowners or Wal-Mart, who planned to build a 220,000 s.f. supercenter that would stay open 24 hours a day. But the Glendale City Council went further. They also enacted a new ordinance that would require developers planning retail stores greater than 75,000 s.f. to apply for a conditional use permit. This gives the city more control over the intensity of site use, and permits conditions to be placed on the project. And thirdly, the City Council added new language to their zoning ordinance specifying that stores under 75,000 s.f. would be called "neighborhood shopping centers" and stores over 75,000 s.f would be called "community shopping centers." This implies that community shopping centers could not be located in areas of the city that only permit neighbhorhood shopping centers. Immediately after the vote, Wal-Mart's attorney began "saber rattling" to quote the Arizona Republic story. Because the Glendale Council made their ordinance changes an emergency, Wal-Mart's lawyer threatened to challenge the vote in court and take the matter to a voter referendum. "If the Council is acting in the best interests of their constituents, then they shouldn't be afraid of a referendum," taunted Wal-Mart's attorney, noting that in other such elections in Arizona and elsewhere, Wal-Mart has won at the ballot box. According to Glendale officials, the overwhelming attack on the city by big box developers, including plans for a Wal-Mart, Costco, Kmart, and Sam's Club, forced Glendale to replace their open-ended zoning ordinance. Both Scottsdale and Phoenix, AZ are working on similar ordinances. The planning Director in Mesa, AZ told the newspaper that he was "not sure that an ordinance that's geared toward limiting the size of a big box or limiting the number of big boxes -- I'm not sure that's going to withstand a court challenge." Wal-Mart's attorney added this threat: "Glendale is changing the rules in midgame, and that is going to cost Glendale taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in litigation that they are ultimately going to lose." Gee, they'd make nice neighbors!

What you can do: Is there an Academy Award for Arrogance? Remember this is Wal-Mart talking -- the company whose founder said "if some community, for whatever reason, doesn't want us to go in there, we're not going to go in and create a fuss." Now their legal mouthpiece is threatening the taxpayers with big financial losses, when usually all Wal-Mart wants to talk about is the financial gains they bring. In reality, it is not the Glendale City Council that will force legal bills to be paid, it is Wal-Mart's legal hubris that will cost the taxpayers dearly. If Wal-Mart followed the advice of Sam Walton and didn't stir up a legal fuss, it would truly save local taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. It is also true that Wal-Mart has won some battles in Arizona -- but they have also lost in places like Chandler, Gilbert, and Tuscon. They also lost popular votes in places like Eureka, CA, and Greenfield, MA. Wal-Mart has one major advantage in going to a referendum. They spend a Walton's ransom on the election, sometimes as much as a quarter of a million dollars on one election. They spent that amount in both Glendora, CA and Huntington Beach, CA (see newsflashes below) to influence voters. Thirdly, the ordinances past are becoming increasingly common. Local communities have every right to impose size and location restrictions on developments. Size caps have been growing in popularity as a legal method for placing limits on out of scale development. More often seen in eastern US states, the trend is circulating around the country as more people become aware of the tool, as outlined in my book, "Slam Dunking Wal-Mart." Dimensional limits, as I call them, are an effective and simple way for a community to define what kind of retail development they want. This may restrict certain building prototypes that some developers prefer, but that does not deny productive commercial uses for other developers who can build a store smaller than 90,000s.f. If you can't build a discount/grocery store in 2 acres or less -- that's your problem -- not the city of Glendale's. All the threats and intimidation should make it clear to voters in Glendale what these retailers are really like as companies. "Give us we want or we will sue you." is the message. Maybe that's what Wal-Mart means when they say they want to be "responsible developers". Responsible for fear and intimidation.










 
 
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