A Plan for Sensible Development

Bennington Banner editorial
Sabina Haskell, Editor
July 5, 2004

The Bennington Planning Commission is about to advise the select board to enact stringent zoning bylaws to tame big-box retailers looking to do business in the area.

Some of the regulations call for stores thinking of facilities larger than 20,000 feet to study the impact of such a store on the community - 20,000 feet is about one-third the size of the Price Chopper.

The businesses would have to study the effects on property taxes and jobs, among other impacts. Other regulations would cap the size of stores in the commercial area of town, along Northside drive, at 75,000 square feet, and stores along Benmont Avenue would be capped at 50,000 square feet. There would be no cap downtown to encourage development there.

The regulations are a smart way of framing the future of development in our town. Encouraging downtown development by making it easier to do business in that part of town will revitalize Main Street. However, we will need to be careful that any development downtown is in tune with the rest of the downtown. Just because we allow larger buildings doesn't mean they should be ugly or soulless.

Some planners are already saying the Bennington model could be the envy of other towns trying to cope with the course of development that has brought mammoth stores and local fears that Vermont's historical character is dying.

In May, Vermont was named to a list of endangered historic places by National Trust for Historic Preservation. This was the second time Vermont has made this list because the organization says Vermont is in danger of losing its historic charm. This time on the list the organization directly points a finger at big-box stores as the main threat.

The organization says that big-box development causes sprawl in small communities (an issue Bennington is no stranger to), and the stores come with economic costs like stifling competition and overwhelming the landscape. The best advice National Trust has for communities like Bennington is to entertain the notion of big-box development but proceed with caution.

The regulations being drafted by our planners are wise for handling Bennington's need for competitive retail, historic significance, small-town character and controllable growth. We will go forward with our eyes fully open and by placing the burden on large retailers to prove their worth we know companies serious about doing business here will know that we also mean business: Careless companies need not apply.