City examines need for ‘big box’ ordinance<br>

From small towns like Belfast, Maine to big cities like Los Angeles, residents are adopting the image of the underdog hero setting out to slay the evil giant —known to them as Wal-Mart.

Earlier this month, a spokesman for the retail company announced plans to raze the current store in Winslow and build a Supercenter.

The new store will be more than158,000 square feet, which is more than double the existing store, but still smaller than most Supercenters. Supercenters range between 100,000 and 220,000 square feet of retail space.

Just like many towns across the country, there is a contingency of Winslow residents who are preparing to fight the construction of the Supercenter because they see it as the destruction of the town.

Maria Gamez has been the most vocal opponent of not just a Wal-Mart Supercenter but of any “big box” stores moving to Winslow. She has been urging the Winslow City Council to pass an ordinance that would restrict the size of retail stores.

Gamez, a union employee for Safeway, cites Wal-Mart’s lower than union wages and its tendency to drive out local retailers as reasons for fighting the expansion.

Gamez collected more than 200 signatures from residents in favor of a big box ordinance. The petition calls for the ordinance to limit Wal-Mart to no more than 75,000 square feet. Gamez said she is not against having a Wal-Mart in the community, she just wants it to fit within the community.

“I’m anti-development to the point it kills the rest of the community,” she said.

When big box retailers move out of a building or go bankrupt, the stores they abandon often stay vacant for years. Communities are left with an eyesore that is hard to sell to new tenants.

Retailers often choose cheap, undeveloped land rather than move into a building that would require extensive renovation or tearing down the store and starting over.

Vacant big boxes sometimes attract crime and drive down property values. And while land owners still pay property tax, the closed businesses no longer provide jobs or generate sales-tax revenue.

At the Oct. 12 City Council meeting, the council asked the Planning and Zoning Commission to look into whether a big box ordinance is in the best interest of the community.

The commission decided to open the issue up to the residents for input and asked Planning and Zoning Manager Jane Zukowski to find a moderator for a public forum. No date is set for the forum.

Last month, Flagstaff City Council passed a big box ordinance limited retail to 125,000 square feet and required a conditional use permit for anything larger than 75,000 square feet.

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