Money can buy many things — but not always an election. Big box developers rely on money — and more money — as their main hope of winning votes that go before the public in zoning cases. And sometimes spending lavishly can tip an election their way. But in the town of Agawam, Massachusetts, all the developer’s money could not buy a ticket into town for his big box plans. Campaign finance reports are not fully due until roughly a month after an election, so the voters of Agawam had no way of knowing during the campaign, that the National Realty & Development Corporation was spending $90,833 to buy their vote. The so-called “Agawam Pavilion” plan, a 563,000 s.f. shopping center on 94 acres of residential land, still failed at the ballot box, despite its rich endowment. The Pavilion was slated to have a Target and a Lowe’s. The developer spent tens of thousands of dollars on advertising, several direct mailings, and other campaign literature. By contrast, the resident’s group against the plan, Citizens Against Reckless Development (CARD), spent only $13,556.36, which they raised from small fund-raisers in town. Karl Merriam, president of CARD, told the Union News, “I think it shows that a passionate group who educate people can beat big money, when it comes down to it,” he said. The developer put the rezoning question on the ballot themselves, after the city rejected the plan. National Realty then created a “citizen’s” group, called the “Citizens in Favor of Retail”, and poured $90,000 into the campaign. Voters in Agawam rejected the big box plans by a 3 to 2 margin.
For earlier stories on this town’s successful victory over Target and Lowe’s, search Newsflash by “Agawam.”