Bennington caps square footage of new retail stores

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(Host) Selectmen in Bennington have set a temporary cap on the size of retail businesses in town. A new interim zoning bylaw provision limits the size of retail construction to 75,000 square feet in the Northside Drive area.

That’s the town’s designated commercial strip, near Route 7 and the Bypass exit scheduled to open this fall. Retailers in other parts of town are limited to 50,000 square feet.

This winter the town received a zoning change request from a local real estate broker. The broker said a major retailer hoped to open a 150,000 square-foot Big Box Superstore in town. Dan Monks is Bennington’s planning director. He says people were concerned about the impact of a giant supermarket-department store on local retailers.

(Monks) “The concern has been that if a single retailer becomes too large and too powerful it destroys all competition in the marketplace. And we want to avoid that in Bennington.”

(Host) Size caps have been used in other states to control urban sprawl, but the measure may be the first of its kind in Vermont. That’s according to Paul Bruhn of the Preservation Trust of Vermont. The trust has been a leader in fighting sprawl and preserving downtowns.

(Bruhn) “Our goal has been focused on location and scale. And that’s one of the advantages of having a size cap of 75,000 square feet, for example, is that you can have a big box, but it will be smaller scale. It will fit into our communities a little better. And that’s one of the reasons why the Bennington solution is a good one.”

(Host) The cap could remain in effect for up to two years. Monks, the planning director, says it will allow time to develop permanent guidelines for big box development.

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