Kaid Benfield Archive


Taming the big box: Lynchburg takes a step

Kaid Benfield

Posted October 1, 2009 at 1:12PM

, , , ,

Lynchburg, Virginia last week became the latest jurisdiction to impose standards on big-box retailers.  While the new standards do not preclude new Walmarts, Costcos and such from locating in the city, they do require that the stores be more pedestrian-, transit- and environment-friendly.  This is a significant step in the right direction, especially for a relatively conservative small city.

A story by Alicia Petska in the Lynchburg News and Advance reports that the new ordinance, which had been under consideration for two years, requires that new stores over 75,000 square feet in size make accommodations for transit access, build a connected system of external sidewalks and internal walkways, and meet new standards for managing stormwater, a major problem given the runoff typically caused by large parking lots.  rendering of improved big-box design (by: Ben Pentreath for Mississippi Renewal)The ordinance also requires developers to make provisions for cross-access between their land and adjoining commercial properties "where feasible."

The latter point attempts to address a particularly maddening aspect of conventional suburban commercial strips.  My friend Constance Beaumont, author of How Superstore Sprawl Can Harm Communities and Better Models for Superstores (see page 3 of the link), used to have a slide in her presentations showing two large stores in the Tysons Corner, Virginia area (I can't remember which, but it was something like Office Depot and Toys R Us) adjacent to each other but separated by a chain-link fence preventing a shopper from walking from one to the other.  Instead, you had to get back in your car and navigate around the large arterial roadway to reach the second store.  That's just plain stupid.

Constance also opens one of her very good articles on the subject with a quote from Ed McMahon, now with the Urban Land Institute: "People love what's inside superstores.  They hate what's on the outside."  It's good to see a place like Lynchburg, in a state where another jurisdiction recently disgraced itself by approving a 141,000-square-foot Walmart on top of a Civil War battlefield, take some steps in the right direction.  Petska's story reports that the ordinance was controversial, passing only by a 4-3 margin.