Tuesday, October 30, 2012

18 Reasons to Vote AGAINST Question B on the QAC Ballot

This document was researched and developed by Bob Fox and Nick Stoer of Queen Anne's County, and is not original content from Steve Kline. It is being shared with permission from the creators.

In 2011, at the request of a commercial real estate developer, three of the Queen Anne's County (QAC) commissioners voted to eliminate the county's 65,000 sq. ft. cap on building size in county areas zoned “suburban commercial.” The size cap is also known as the anti-big box store restriction.  This action was taken despite the fact that the restriction is part of the county's Comprehensive Plan - the official county roadmap to guide development and preserve the open space and small town character of QAC. This small town character is one of the key reasons county homeowners consider when deciding to live here.

Many citizens were irate about the potential for encroachment by Big Boxes.  The commissioners’ decision clearly opened the door for stores of “unlimited” size to locate here. To demonstrate their opposition thousands of county voters signed a petition to have the Maryland Election Commission put this issue on the November 2012 ballot allowing citizens to have their voices heard.  That petition drive was successful and froze the commissioners’ action. 
The November 6 election is the final act on this matter. To  keep “unlimited” size Big Box stores out of the county citizens must vote AGAINST on Question B.  Winning this will return us to the previous and reasonable 65,000 sq. ft. limit.  

18 Reasons to Vote AGAINST Question B on the ballot (i.e. to oppose Big Box stores in QAC):
    Proponents of Big Box stores provided no compelling economic rationale to the commissioners during the push to open up our countryside to large stores other than fleeting references to job and tax revenue needs.  Contrary to the “more jobs” misinformation from Business Queen Anne’s, studies show that Big Box stores often result in a net loss of local jobs due to fewer employees per sq. ft. of retail space among other reasons.

    About as many jobs are lost as are gained when a Big Box store comes to town.  Small stores cannot compete and they close.  The shift is to lower paying jobs at the Big Box. This is common   knowledge easily researched and verified on the internet. Direct and indirect income subsidies are at times then required by workers under low pay conditions for basic transportation, health and housing aid—burdens thrown onto the local community.  

    Our county job situation is sound.  The 2010 census shows that 85 percent of county workers travel to high-paying jobs in Annapolis, Washington/Baltimore suburbs, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Andrews AFB, Ft. Meade and aviation jobs at BWI Airport, etc.   In August 2012 our unemployment rate was 6.3 percent, well below Maryland (6.9 percent) and national (7.8 percent) numbers.  We have the lowest unemployment rate on the Eastern Shore. 
     Business Queen Anne’s, the real estate proponents of Big Box stores, boast about the $140,000 in taxes that Talbot County collects from Target, Lowe’s, and Wal-Mart together in Easton.  That is a drop in the bucket compared to the tens of millions that QAC collects annually in income tax and property tax from our relatively affluent population.  The taxes from retired people alone who come here for our tranquil setting would dwarf those collected from a Big Box in QAC.  Satisfying that retired group, incidentally, is doubly important from a tax revenue/expenditure viewpoint.  Their kids have finished high school and are long gone.  Yet, retirees still pay property taxes while making no demands on our school budget.   

      It was revealed last month that the county enjoyed a budget surplus of over $7.2 million  in fiscal year 2012 owing to revenues $5.4 million above and expenditures $1.2 million below budget.  A break-even situation had been anticipated.  The county is currently in excellent fiscal shape.  So much for the “fiscal crisis” that fuels Big Box advocate reasoning. 

     Big Box stores do not generate additional sales, real estate or income tax revenue at the county or state level. The relatively fixed amount of money in circulation is simply shifted around.

    Big Box stores concentrate traffic and precipitate traffic lights, additional traffic lanes and gridlock.  Infrastructure costs go up and taxpayers, not the developers, get stuck with the bill.  Our county roads are not designed to handle Big Box stores either on Kent Island or up-county at the intersection of Routes 213 and 544.  Witness the traffic congestion on route Route 2 in Severna Park/Glen Burnie and on 301 in Waldorf/Bowie. 

     Many county citizens with either solid Western Shore management positions or substantial retirement incomes moved here to escape the hustle and bustle of the Western Shore. 

      When they are built, Big Box stores often overpower existing small businesses.  State studies document the negative consequences of Big Box stores in Maryland towns like Cambridge and Reisterstown.  We don't want boarded up store fronts. 
      Given our population, QAC already has a surplus of commercial and retail space.  The former Safeway store in Kent Towne shopping center sat vacant for more than two years after Safeway opened its new site in April 2010.  Heaven only knows what will happen to the ACME building once it closes its door.  A Big Box store will add to the number of shuttered store fronts in QAC.

      A 180,000 sq. ft. Big Box (Safeway on Kent Island is at 65,000) with its vast sales capacity creates its own growth momentum.  The push then is for more population and housing, then more Big Boxes and so on.  Commercial expansion at moderate levels would be a thing of the past.  Once the gates open the leap frog effect will obliterate our rural, small town setting in no time.  Witness the overnight change to Middletown, Delaware.
    People often ask “What makes Queen Anne’s County special?”   One person captured the answer by summarizing that in addition to modest traffic, a great shoreline and beautiful vistas “It’s not what we have that makes the region so special, it’s what we don’t have”.

     Small neighborhood businesses are locally owned  and we know each other- customers get personal attention and better service compared to shopping in large, impersonal Big Box stores.       
     People shop near where they work, less so near where they live and, again, 85% of the QAC labor force works outside the county.  Out-of-county shopping patterns and habits have long been established.  The horse is out of the barn.  That is the reality.
      The Big Box stores in Easton are often cited by proponents of unrestrained growth as a model to replicate.   Since the construction of the shopping center containing Target, however, town leaders are now changing course and maintaining a 65,000 sq. ft. cap.  No plans are afoot for additional Big Boxes  in Talbot County.
       Big Box stores immediately send receipts out of state to home offices. They are not partners in local economies.   In contrast, small local businesses support local banks and industry and re-circulate store earnings in the community

     We in Queen Anne’s county have a responsibility to continue to provide an island of tranquility, varied water and wildlife recreational activities and that intangible Eastern shore “difference” to stressed out visitors from the Western shore who travel only a short distance to get here.  A good part of our economy and culture has evolved to satisfy that experience for both visitors and residents alike.  Support what the Bay, the inlets and land have made available to us for centuries, not jarring and needless change.

     Who would largely profit in the end at a local level from Big Boxes?  A few developers.  Do we really want to give them the power to radically alter our special place?  Vote “against” on Question B.

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