August 22, 2005

Look, Not Just Size, Is Important When Managing Growth

The Hartford Courant recently praised Stafford, Conn., for a new ordinance that requires a special permit for any building of more than 50,000 square feet. The move comes amidst expectations that Wal-Mart will seek to build a big-box store there.

Planning reviews that can only rule on "narrow concerns such as lighting, screening and parking" are not enough for communities that want truly smart growth, the editorial notes. Also important: "a building's appearance or its effect on nearby properties."

Indeed. If you want certain areas of your community to be pedestrian-friendly and not end up as a wave of strip malls, officials need to keep some control over those things.

Special permiting allows "more flexibility over decisions such as building size, type of business, location on the property, and to some extent the design of the building," the Courant observes. "The ordinance is more of a negotiating tool than a set of strict guidelines. That means big-box stores such as Wal-Mart and Target might still be welcome - in the right place and with the right proposal."

Other suggestions on generating the kind of growth the community wants: a design review committee, special village district zoning to restrict certain types of buildings in some areas, and "tax incentives for investors who reclaim vacant, deteriorating buildings "

Concludes the Courant: "Communities should be receptive to a variety of commercial proposals. But that doesn't mean they can't protect a town's character and control where certain types of businesses are built."

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