Residents in suburban Stoneham, Massachusetts, just north of Boston, hope to throw a big monkey wrench in Home Depot’s plans to build a store in their community. The huge project is called “Stoneham Crossing,” but some homeowners feel it should be called “Stoneham Double-Crossing”, since the parcel is not supposed to be used for big box stores, and it will lower the value of surrounding homes. This is at least the third new Home Depot proposed in eastern Massachusetts in the past year. Residents in nearby Billerica have been fighting Home Depot for months. Neighbors in Stoneham sent Sprawl-Busters the following update: “Home Depot is planning on building a 130,000 sf retail space, and an office building in our neighborhood and abutting green space. They have been meeting with Winchester neighbors for over 9 months. Stoneham residents weren’t notified until July article was printed in the paper. There have been 4 Planning Board meetings and 4 Conservation Commission meetings. They have the local political power in the Board of Appeals, Selectmen and probably some members of the Planning Board. Our best hope is to stop it here. The proposed location is off Route 93, on Fallon Road, which only has limited ramps, because it abutts one of the oldest neighborhoods in the town. The site is a commercial property, but it abutts the Middlesex Fellsway, the largest green park space north of Boston. The next Planning Board meeting is Oct. 11th at 8:00pm in the Town Hall. Last week the project manager met with Winchester neighbors, some Stoneham residents found out about it and were asked to leave. I heard they had a nice give-away. They have been spreading favors and promising too much to write about.” According to the Stoneham Independent newspaper, the town’s Planning Board “scolded” the developer for ignoring a demand for a study of traffic patterns of nearby home improvement centers. The Planning board said the developer, the Richmond Company, failed to present traffic counts at two Home Depot stores in nearby Reading and Somerville. “I’m very much in a quandary as to why, when we ask for something, you exclude that criteria,” a Planning Board member told the developer. The developer defended not showing those numbers, saying those locations include other retail stores, not a stand-alone Home Depot. The Planning board then asked for the number of transactions at the those other Home Depot stores, but the developer responded those figures might be proprietary. The Richmond Company bought the 16.2-acre lot from the A.W. Chesterton Company last year for $7.4 million, and is now proposing a special permit for an 133,000 s.f. Home Depot plus a three-story 15,000 s.f. office park at the site. Richmond needs a special permit because the Stoneham zoning bylaws cap the size of a retail development at 75,000 s.f. The newspaper said the developer was met with a “sea of neighborhood opposition” has voiced concerns with project-associated traffic – estimated at over 3,200 more cars per day. Meanwhile, residents in the abutting town of Winchester are meeting privately with the Richmond company to see if they can “mitigate” the impact of the project on their homes. The homeowners’ attorney has been brokering private meetings with the developer to discuss issues he said we “unique to this neighborhood.” A memorandum of understanding is being developed by the Winchester neighbors, which would “bind the developer to live up to their proposed restrictions” and “provide the specific mitigation and benefits to the neighborhood that have been promised,” according to the invitation to the meeting. In return, “the neighborhood will not oppose the proposed redevelopment plan” as long as “the developer continues to meet its specific commitments.” Rather than invest their money in legally fighting the special permit, the Winchester neighbors are caving in to the developer, assuming Richmond will win, and trying to cut their best deal.” Richmond is buying them off with a berm. “(We) in the core group believe that it is better to negotiate and get what we can from the developer, rather than risk allowing the project to get approved by the town of Stoneham without specific input relative to the issues that might specifically impact our neighborhood and without allowing us to obtain any ‘mitigation’ or ‘improvements’ from the developer that would specifically benefit our neighborhood,” the letter states. The group accepts Home Depot as a done deal, and adds, “”it seems likely that the proposed redevelopment plan will be approved by the town of Stoneham, in some form that is close to the current proposal. It appears that the project meets all the requirements of the town of Stoneham zoning bylaw.” Instead of fighting the proposal, Winchester residents are going after hours of operation, trucking, lighting, a berm at the rear of the building, even mosquito abatement. One Winchester resident was thrown out of the last neighborhood meeting with the developer. “I have not met anyone, ever, who was for the proposed Home Depot project,” he told the group. “You don’t represent me.”
The efforts by this developer to divide and conquer the neighbors is a typical strategy. The last thing Richmond needs is residents from two towns threatening a lawsuit. If there are Winchester homes abutting this property, they can take the developer to court, even if they are over the town’s border. In this case, I suspect the group’s lawyer has advised them not to fight Home Depot, arguing wrongly that you can’t stop big corporations. (They should know better from this area’s famous battle with W.R. Grace.) Winchester residents would do better to throw their lot into the case being raised by Stoneham residents. The fact is, this project is not allowed “by right.” It needs a special permit, and a special permit is a discretionary decision. There is a reason why retail area on the parcel was limited to 75,000 sf., and this proposal far exceeds that, and is ample enough reason for Stoneham to deny the project, or for abuttors to appeal it. The position take by Winchester residents amounts to “making the best of a bad situation,” and they will learn that you can put lipstick on a pig, but its still a pig. There is no way to make Home Depot a good neighbor. Search Newsflash by “Home Depot” to see recent stories of how the store violates local ordinances repeatedly. If Winchester residents think they can live with Home Depot, they will regret the mistake as long as they own their homes. Winchester residents should join hands with their Stoneham neighbors, rather than accept crumbs and berms from Richmond.