On May 25, 2005, Sprawl-Busters reported that the city of Taunton, Massachusetts had taken its next door neighbor, the city of Raynham, to court, over the latter’s decision to approve a Wal-Mart supercenter. The Taunton City Council voted unanimously to appeal the decision of the Raynham planning and zoning boards approving a 209,000 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter. The Taunton council voted to spend whatever funds were necessary to pursue the case. Taunton Mayor Robert Nunes was very clear about his feelings over the Wal-Mart controversy. “I support the council’s decision. The construction of Wal-Mart on Route 138 will be devastating to Taunton. Taunton will get all the traffic while Raynham gets all the fees and tax revenues. The city is appealing on the grounds that “the impacts on Taunton were not adequately considered and the mitigation is inadequate to address the particular harms to Taunton’s interests.” One Taunton Councilor told the Enterprise newspaper, “We have to protect the city of Taunton and the residents of that section of the city. The traffic is going to be unbelievable. Hopefully, Wal-Mart will listen to our concerns.” Taunton officials asked Wal-Mart to make traffic light, intersection and road improvements that could cost $1.7 million — but Wal-Mart had refused at first. The Mayor said the Wal-Mart, which is only half a mile from the Taunton border, would hike traffic on the affected city roads by 68%. Officials estimate 10,000 new cars a day will worsen the level of service on an already dangerous and congested stretch of road. A citizen’s group, Raynham First, which has been fighting the project since the beginning, told reporters that it was also considering an appeal. Roll the clock forward more than two and a half years later — and this project is still in limbo. The city of Taunton is no longer involved, but a new champion has stepped forward to challenge Wal-Mart — a family-owned grocery chain. Raynham, a town of 13,665 people, already has a Wal-Mart supercenter on Paramount Drive. The retailer should have learned the first time that Raynham has mixed feelings about supercenters. The first Wal-Mart supercenter here was bitterly fought also, and after court appeals, took more than three years to approve. That first supercenter is only ten minutes from the project now making headlines. The Bristol Superior Court in Fall River will hear an appeal next week — not by the city of Taunton — but by a competitor to Wal-Mart. Demoulas Super Markets Inc. of Tewksbury, the parent company of Market Basket supermarkets, and owner of the Market Basket Plaza on Route 138 in Raynham, is the plaintiff against Wal-Mart. Demoulas filed their lawsuit in May of 2005, naming the Raynham Planning Board and Wal-Mart as defendants. Demoules is challenging the legality of a Planning Board vote made on May 2, 2005 to grant Wal-Mart a special permit, paving the way for a 208,622-s.f. superstore at the former Par 3 golf course, located next to the Market Basket Plaza, close to the Taunton line. Demoulas says the Planning Board made its decision without full review of plans and without proper consideration of the impact of increased traffic on area roads. Demoulas wants to overturn a decision by the Planning Board to accept a subdivision and a site plan under one heading, after waiving a review of the subdivison plan. Demoulas says the board failed to fully consider evidence during the public hearings phase of the project. The Planning Board did not consider the negative impact of increased traffic and the impact of an offer by Wal-Mart to pay for new traffic lights along the Route 138 corridor, as well as a new traffic light at the entrance to their store. The superstore is projected to increase traffic by 8,400 cars per day, and raise traffic by 40% near the site. Demoulas asserts that the proposed traffic light near the Wal-Mart entrance is too close to a traffic light located in front of their plaza. This will create traffic delays and gridlock along the two-lane Route 138 roadway.
This project is narrowing in on three years of delays. It’s not often that you see one retailer take on another in court. In this case, the regional food chain, Demoulas, is pinning much of its argument on traffic problems, which is hard to win in court, because you get into “dueling traffic engineers,” and if the court believes the traffic issue is reasonably debatable, they may be hesitant to substitute their judgement for that of local officials. On the plus side, Demoulas has deeper pockets than the usual opponent Wal-Mart faces. Citizen’s groups have to struggle to raise the cash to go toe-to-toe with Wal-Mart. That will not be a problem for Demoulas. Market Basket stores are a major discount competitor in Massachusetts, and the company has a reputation for low-cost groceries. If Demoulas is unhappy with the court decision next week, it is expected that they will continue their legal challenge against the superstore, which is targeted at them anyway. It makes sense for Demoulas to spend its legal money now, to avoid larger losses later. Demoulas operates roughly 60 supermarkets in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Readers are urged to call Demoulas (this privately held company has no website) at 978-851-8000, with this message: “Keep up your battle against Wal-Mart in Raynham. That community already has a Wal-Mart supercenter less than 10 minutes away. Thanks for taking them on, and good luck in pursuing your legal rights — no matter how large the opponent.”