One of the largest “double big box malls” in New England has been proposed for Leominster, Masschusetts by New England Development. The project, spread across 53 acres of land straddling both sides of Route 117, includes a 228,000 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter, a 162,000 s.f. Lowe’s home improvement store, plus an 84,000 s.f. unnamed retailer, and 4 fast food restaurants: a total of 510,000 s.f of retail sprawl choking off the eastern gateway into a “Tree City, USA” community. The parking lots for this monster will hold 2,175 cars, consume 20.5 million gallons of wastewater per year, a similar amount of sewage, require the installation of six new traffic lights, and dump 8 million new car trips per year onto the current level “F” (failing) level of service roadways. The project needs 54,000 s.f. of detentions ponds, including one pond six feet deep. Roadways will need to be widened, water and sewer lines extended — all to bring nothing new by way of retailing to the Leominster trade area. In fact, there are already 6 Wal-Mart stores within 18 miles of this site, and a Home Depot roughly 2 miles away. There is a major “Searstown” mall near the site, and 8 nearby supermarkets. A local citizen’s group, Leominster First, has formed to fight the project, and organized testimony against the project in early July. Residents say the project is incompatible with the existing retail condominium projects that abut the site, and that the vast commercial project will harm adjoining properties. Because the southern half of the project is located in an Industrial zone, it needs a special permit to proceed. Leominster First argues that the scale of the plan is inharmonious with the surrounding community, and will have an adverse impact on the city’s revenues due to the economic dislocation that will take place once the boxes open. The location is also a sensitive “gateway” corridor into the city, inappropriate for this size project. The project must also receive the approval of the Massachusetts Environment Protection Agency (MEPA), and an environment impact statement must be completed by the applicant. The EIR is expected in late July. While some neighbors have hired a lawyer to bargain over lighting, noise and buffers, Leominster First says that’s like putting a Tuxedo on Frankenstein. The project is simply unacceptable due to scale, says Leominstger First, and they want the special permit rejected. Last April, long before the project began its public hearings, the Mayor of Leominster wrote to state officials to express “our sincere support” for the project. “Overall the City is pleased with the proposed plan,” the Mayor wrote — before he heard from residents. Meanwhile, many city residents are still upset with the traffic generated by the existing Home Depot, and worry that the New England Development plan means a lot more of the same. More than 175 residents packed a July 8th. Planning Board hearing, wearing bright yellow buttons which read, “Stop the Malling”. Officials from the neighboring town of Lancaster told Planning Board members in Leominster of their concerns over the protection of groundwater supplies in the underlying acquifer.
The next Planning Board hearing is August 19th. For further information, go to www.leominsterfirst.org, and email the group from its website.