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Big-box store issue back to council.

Byline: Edward Russo The Register-Guard

Thanks for thinking of us, but we don't have the time or money to study the thorny issue of the effects of big-box stores on the local economy, a citizens committee told the City Council on Monday.

That was the unanimous message from the Mayor's Committee on Economic Development, which rejected the council's request to figure out how stores more than 50,000 square feet in size affect the city's other businesses, its land use decisions, transportation network and other things.

Lame-duck Mayor Jim Torrey earlier in the year formed the 15-member committee.

By August, members are supposed to produce a list of ideas that the mayor and City Council might endorse in hopes of helping to spur job creation.

The issue of what impact Wal-Mart and other big-box stores have on communities has bubbled up in recent years in cities across the nation.

Some have enacted rules to curb store sizes. Others have decided the topic is too complex or emotionally charged to tackle.

In Eugene, a coalition of local activist groups has pushed the City Council to limit big-box develop- ment.

The Eugene committee got the controversial big-box topic after the council on May 24 debated whether to move toward temporarily banning big-box store development.

The proposed ban was to give the community time to assess the impact of Wal-Mart and other giant retailers on the city. Councilors narrowly defeated the proposal 5-4, with Torrey breaking the tie, and, in a compromise motion, referred the study to the mayor's committee.

But members on Monday said their plate is full studying such things as the wisdom of tax breaks for businesses and whether to recommend that the city hire an expert to help firms avoid bureaucratic red tape in dealing with City Hall.

It will be difficult to complete their original assignment by the August deadline even without new tasks, they said, especially as one as massive as the big-box issue.

"It exceeds our capacity because of time" constraints, said Tom Bowerman, a real estate investor, who made the motion to reject the task.

The committee was formed with a modest budget for support and research, with members relying on city Planning and Development Department staff for much of their information.

The extra work would have required more money from the council than was approved, Planning and Development Director Tom Coyle said.

The committee's rejection of the assignment means the proposal will be kicked back to the council, City Manager Dennis Taylor said.

If councilors think the topic is worth pursuing, he said, they will have to consider other ways to get the study.

Alternatives might involve using contingency funds to pay for research, or adding a spending item to the city's proposed 2005 fiscal year budget, which is up for approval on June 28.
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Title Annotation:Government; A request to study the impact of the giant stores is rejected by the Mayor's Committee on Economic Development
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 15, 2004
Words:471
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