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Board Votes for ‘Big Box’ Restrictions

Walmart, Target and other large format retailers are going to need to get County Board approval should they ever want to build a store in Arlington.

On Saturday the board unanimously approved a change to the county’s zoning ordinance that will require new “big box” retail stores to seek a Special Exception Use Permit. Before that, a large retailer could have theoretically built a store in certain areas on a “by right” basis, without the need to obtain board approval.

The amendment will apply to retail stores with a gross floor area of 50,000 square feet or more on any level, or stores with 200 more more dedicated parking spaces. Car dealerships were exempted from the rule.

“With the Board’s action, [large format retail] developments will only be built in Arlington after the community has an opportunity to review potential negative impacts and determine the appropriate conditions to mitigate those negative impacts,” Arlington County said in a press release. was the first to report that the board acted to make the zoning change after a developer, working on behalf of Walmart, started expressing interest in an industrial site near Shirlington. County staff warned that “big box” stores like Walmart could generate four times the amount of local road traffic as a similar-sized office building or hotel.

“This isn’t to impede someone from setting up shop if they want to do business here,” board member Walter Tejada said during Saturday’s board meeting. “It’s really saying that we should have a dialog, that there should be a process in which we can address any potential negative impacts to neighborhoods.

“By putting this in place we at least create for ourselves the opportunity to enter the conversation,” added County Board Vice Chair Mary Hynes.

Board member Jay Fisette noted that many other localities have similar rules already in place.

“We’re not breaking new ground,” he said. “This has been done all over the country, it has been done all over the region. We’re in fact the last major jurisdiction in Northern Virginia to take a similar action.”

Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman said economic conditions only recently started making Arlington attractive to large format retailers.

“I think perhaps the reason it came last here is because we don’t have as many of those big pieces of land — the targets of that sort of thing,” Zimmerman said.

“I didn’t mean a pun there, I promise,” he added.

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