A Framework to Assess the Hidden Costs of Big-Box Stores

A narrow approach to land use policy makes it difficult for communities to assess, and consider, the full impact of new big-box stores. But on Cape Cod, a regional planning framework allows the hidden consequences of big boxes to inform decisions.
July 2, 2013, 6am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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"Thousands of proposals to build big-box stores and shopping centers will be submitted to cities and towns this year," says Stacy Mitchell. "In almost every case, local planning policies will limit any review of these projects to conventional zoning issues, like how much traffic the store will generate and whether the site has sufficient landscaping."

"Questions about the economic impacts of these projects will be off the table. Residents who want to talk about how a new shopping center will affect the viability of Main Street business districts, wage rates for local workers, or even the cost of public services will be told that those issues cannot be considered as part of the planning board’s deliberations."

But Cape Cod's Regional Policy Plan [PDF] provides a tool that few communities have: a framework for studying the impacts of such stores on the regional economy, and a mechanism for protecting the peninsula's character from sprawling growth. At public hearings this month, this framework will be put to the test as the Cape Cod Commission considers a proposal to build a 128,000-square-foot Lowe’s in the town of South Dennis.

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Published on Monday, July 1, 2013 in Grist
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