Town residents in Hadley, Massachusetts report that Lowe’s home improvement store doesn’t seem capable of accepting a NO. Here’s their frontline report: “Lowe’s has become the monster with a hundred heads. Since August 2003, voters have said “no” three times to expanding the Route 9 business zone so that Lowe’s can have an additional 12.8 acres for a bigger store. But now they’re back for Round Four. Despite the largest turnout for a special town meeting in a decade on January 17th, Hadley voters are being called to another special town meeting on May 5th to vote on the same plan to benefit Lowe’s. At the January Town Meeting, the developer’s PR representative, Paul Benjamin, said, “these corporations don’t bluff,” and if the rezone failed, Lowe’s would start work at the site the following week. But three months later, no work has taken place and now another vote has been called. The developer had previously assured voters that the adjacent Long Hollow Bison Farm, which is selling Lowe’s the land, would remain if the rezone passed. But now the developer is offering only a five-year “limit” of 6,000 square feet on commercial development at the farm. People who voted “yes” the first three times to save the bison must be disappointed. Also, in late February, newspaper reports revealed that Lowe’s developer had offered a total of $30,000 to several Hadley organizations, payable only if the rezone passed. Yet these “gifts” were never disclosed at the Town Meetings or in legal negotiations with the Select Board on mitigation payments. In December 2003, Lowe’s agreed to pay Austin, Texas, $1 million in mitigation fees to build a store smaller than the one they are proposing for Hadley. To build the same store on King Street in neighboring Northampton, the Lowe’s developer would have to pay $905,000 under their zoning ordinances. But Lowe’s is still only offering Hadley $150,000 in “mitigation.” Many residents feel that if the Lowe’s rezoning passes now, other developers will learn that it pays to cut backroom deals, withhold relevant information, and keep forcing town meetings until citizens get tired of voting.
Lowe’s is clearly waging a battle of will and stamina, local residents say, hoping that voters will simply tire of repeated town meetings. For more information on this town’s effort to draw the line on sprawl, visit www.HadleyNeighbors.org