July 2, 2004

Bennington Cautiously Eyes Big Box Stores

This morning's edition(s) of Vermont's sister-newspapers Rutland Herald and Times Argus have reported that:

Bennington could set Vt. precedent for big stores

By PETER CRABTREE Herald Staff

BENNINGTON � Bennington could become the first Vermont town to require large retailers to prove they would not harm the community if they want a permit to do business.

The Planning Commission is about to ask the Select Board to approve a zoning bylaw that would require stores larger than 20,000 square feet to pay for an independent �community impact� study.

The proposed requirement, which was applauded at a public hearing Wednesday night, would be waived for downtown businesses.

�The rest of Vermont is watching very closely,� said Michael McDonough, a commission member. �I think you will see other communities follow our lead if we move in this direction.�

The Planning Commission also wants to make permanent an interim bylaw that caps big-box stores along the town�s commercial strip at 75,000 square feet.

[...]

Yet, that said, the fact remains:

The Select Board balked last year when the Planning Commission first suggested that retail stores larger than 38,000 square feet undergo economic impact studies.

The commission has responded by broadening the issues to be reviewed. The proposed bylaw calls for an evaluation of a project�s costs and benefits, including the effect on property tax revenues and the creation or loss of jobs in town.

Before a local permit could be issued, the Development Review Board would have to find that a retail project would not have an undue adverse impact on wages, housing costs or the town�s ability to provide services.

�The bottom line may end up to be the economic impact, but we�re also looking at infrastructure and schools,� said Barry Horst, chairman of the Planning Commission. �We want to see how it affects the entire community.�

Michael Bethel, a community activist, challenged the commission. Bethel said that while he was not an advocate of big box stores, he feared the proposal was too restrictive.

[...]

The last three paragraphs of the article explains that:

The commission expects to send the bylaw to the Select Board next week. The elected board, which has final approval, is likely to warn the bylaw for a public hearing later this summer, according to Monks.

The big box debate came alive last fall when an Albany, N.Y., developer sought but failed to win a zoning change to build a 170,000-square-foot store on the edge of downtown. McDonough urged citizens Wednesday to remain involved.

�The crime now would be for that public discussion not to continue to the final step,� he said.

For those seeking additional information concerning these matters, the Bennington Town Government page of the town's official Website includes pop up pages for both the Planning Commission and the Select Board as well as minutes of other government bodies of the town of course.

Also of interest is the Web page featuring Demographics of their town.

Posted by Morgan on July, 2 2004 at 08:54 AM