There is already a Home Depot less than 10 minutes away, but the Atlanta-based retailer continues its plans to saturate the area surrounding the town of Billerica, Massachusetts. The retailer has submitted plans to become the major anchor tenant of the existing Billerica Mall. The company has promised to “create” 150 “new” jobs, and double the parcel’s property tax payments. Both of those figures are gross numbers, not net. The town has to subtract existing jobs that could be lost elsewhere in the retail economy, and the cost of town services (mostly police and fire) that will be demanded by the huge format store. In nearby Reading, Massachusetts, Home Depot named a local cop their “employee of the year” because he spent so much time (at public expense) at the home improvement store. According to the Lowell Sun, critics of the plan have warned that Home Depot will make traffic conditions on Boston Road even worse, and hurt local businesses. R.D. Management of New York City presented plans for the Home Depot to Billerica selectman recently for a 133,354 s.f. store in the center portion of the mall. There is already a regional chain grocery store, a Kmart and a Burlington Coat Factory at the mall. But none of these existing tenants are anywhere near the scale of the proposed Home Depot. To build a store this size, R.D. Management is seeking a variance from the town’s zoning bylaw that requires a green strip to surround 70 percent of the building. Because of the size of the store, the developer does not want to provide a green buffer area behind the loading docks — exactly where the buffer zone is needed to cut down on noise and impact on nearby properties. R.D. Management also needs permits for the 15,950 s.f. garden center with outdoor sales. Home Depot outdoor sales often spread through a large portion of the parking lots, and have caused code violations in many communities across the country. Officials in Reno, Nevada, for example, have threatened to shut down a Home Depot there for repeated code violations. Traffic will also be a major concern at the hearings to come in Billerica. R.D. has not completed the developer’s traffic study. Boston Road has already been cited for its poor level of service. The real action on this proposal will come when the Planning Board conducts its site plan review for this over-sized project. Officials would also do well to research the Home Depot toxic fire that took place in Quincy, Massachusetts in the mid-1990s, as an example of what kind of hazardous materials fire could happen at this site.
This is not the first big box battle in Billerica. The community turned back a Wal-Mart project that would have destroyed the Griggs Farm, one of the community’s last working farms and roadstands. The land was bought out from under the developer by a non-profit entity, and no Wal-Mart was ever built. In this case, the scale of the project is too big for the site, and local officials can insist on a smaller footprint. Local officials have viewed a Home Depot store in Greenfield, Massachusetts as a model exterior, more of a residential design with a pitched roof — but that store is about 40% smaller than the prototype being proposed for Billerica. For similar stories, search by “Home Depot”, “Reno”, etc.