Oct. 27, 2006–The city of Austin, Texas, may have a new ordinance in place by early next year that would allow its citizens greater input in what big box retailers must do before being allowed to build a new store.

The new ordinance will call for a public hearing process, expanded public notification to within one mile of the development site, and an economic impact review as part of a conditional use permitting process. The ordinance may also create a new zoning category for big boxes. Only retailers building stores 100,000 sq. feet or more would be subject to the ordinance.

The grassroots organization Full Circle is spearheading the effort and has garnered support from a number of business, labor, neighborhood, and other groups. The city’s land development code does not take into consideration the community and economic impacts of large scale retail developments, said Susan Moffat, volunteer director of Full Circle.

“I would love to have this as a law by the holidays,” Moffat said. She thinks the city council understands the need for the ordinance, but may find the economic impacts clause a “sticky point.” Economic impact reviews are already found or are under consideration in at least ten other U.S. cities.

The ordinance is modeled after similar ones found in Los Angles and other cities throughout the country. It has been under development and scrutiny by community leaders and city officials for the past two years. Fifty-nine percent of Austin residents are concerned with the increasing number of big boxes and 71% want the city council do to more to promote local business interests, according to a 2004 poll cited by the ordinance advocates. On Tuesday, the Planning Commission sent it with its full approval to the city council.

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