It was as improbable as Great Burnham wood coming to Dunsinance hill. But it finally happened in Hadley, Massachusetts, where voters at an annual town meeting became the second Western Massachusetts town in the past month to put a cap on the size of retail stores. East Longmeadow passed a 65,000 s.f. cap by a 96% supermajority vote at town meeting. Hadley over the past twenty years has become the poster child for big box sprawl along Route 9. This roadway is the umbilical cord between the two college towns of Amherst and Northampton, and the “Hardly” Planning Board never met a big box project it didn’t like. But this past Monday, residents indicated they’ve had enough. Town Meeting voted 76% (139 to 45) in favor of the ‘Compatible Building Size Bylaw.’ The measure places a 75,000-s.f. cap on retail building size, banning more big box stores from cluttering Route 9. The cap language is as follows: “In all zoning districts the following shall not be permitted: 1. any proposed new structure or expansion of an existing structure for retail use, excluding the re-use or re-construction of an existing
structure, with a total floor area exceeding 75,000 square feet or 2. a group of contiguous or adjacent stores, shops and similar retail or commercial establishments with a combined total footprint of all buildings in the group exceeding 60,000 square feet.” “I think this is a great day because the Wild West days of development on Route 9 are over,” one resident told the Hampshire Gazette. Three big box projects now in the pipeline say they will be “grandfathered” in because they preceeded the new ordinance: a Lowe’s, a Home Depot and a Wal-Mart Supercenter. David Elvin, who worked on the size cap ordinance, said “the time has come for the town to set the agenda on development.” Three years ago Hadley voters approved a moratorium on big box stores, but 17 years ago voters rejected a size cap, and the Planning Board often cited that 1989 vote as the reason their hands were tied to restrain large scale development. As of this week, the Hadley Planning Board has nowhere to hide. Certainly not behind big boxes.
Though Hadley residents in 2003 agreed to a moratorium that capped the size of all commercial structures, town residents have never supported a permanent cap. A similar measure brought to Town Meeting in 1989 failed to get the two-thirds majority that zoning articles require. For local contacts in Hadley, email [email protected] For similar stories, search Newsflash by “caps”.