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In communities throughout the U.S., developers who propose to build large-format retail stores—known as “big box” stores—soon find their projects in the headlines and heated op-eds in local newspapers. Debate about the proposed projects tends to quickly break down into bitter partisan campaigns, leaving little opportunity or time for an informed public process in which people are able to assess long-term implications and envision alternative scenarios.
The Foundation is creating the Big Box Evaluator, a web-based, interactive visualization and analysis tool that allows people to assess the costs and benefits of proposed big box developments, explore and analyze alternative development scenarios and learn about model big box planning processes. The Project is helping Middlebury, Vermont, a small college town of 8,500, envision and plan alternatives for future big box proposals they believe are just around the corner.
Alongside Big Box Evaluator, Middlebury is undertaking a planning scenario exercise to develop new zoning regulations that reflect the community’s threshold criteria for future big box proposals. Working with Middlebury and other towns in the region that have already dealt with big box proposals, the Foundation is helping compile a comprehensive database to support Big Box Evaluator's analytical capability. In partnership with Placeways, the Foundation is producing visual and economic models for big box development that allow people to explore multiple growth scenarios and assess the true costs and benefits of each.