Massachusetts has 47 Wal-Mart stores, but if residents of Watertown get their way, there won’t ever be a Wal-mart store darkening this Boston suburb.
A July 13th meeting in the Watertown Town Hall attracted dozens of local residents who came to discuss the town’s economic development future. According to the Watertown TAB newspaper, they told area officials they don’t want Wal-Mart to be part of that future.
The meeting was called by the Town Council’s subcommittee on economic development and planning. The meeting agenda was to review a plan submitted by the town’s Planning Director Steven Magoon, which had first surfaced a month and a half ago.
The Planner’s proposal addresses the growth of business districts in Watertown, but stipulates that “big box” stores should not be part of the solution. Magoon’s work was tabled by the Town Council, which concerned many local residents, who feared that the Council might try to delete the anti big box language. The concern was palpable, since Wal-Mart has been widely rumored to be planning a 90,000 s.f. store in Watertown, but as of yet has not filed any paperwork with the town.
According to the TAB, one resident told councilors, “We want to see development. It’s important to have a vision for what would be cohesive in the town that would connect and support communities and neighborhood and lifestyle that will not be adversely affected. Every person represented said we don’t want more big box stores. Those were the findings. I don’t feel there should be any substantial changes to what those findings were.”
The subcommittee voted at the end of the session to approve the Planner’s proposal with no changes to the big box language. It now has to go to the full Town Council for a final vote on August 9th. A group called Sustainable Watertown told councilors they were concerned about the impact Wal-Mart would have on local businesses and the tax base. “Our commitment to sustainability simply means that respect for individual and corporate property rights must be considered alongside the impact of proposed development on surrounding abutters, small businesses, the community at large, and the evolving character of our town,” a spokesman for the group told the TAB. “For these reasons, we will continue to grow as an organization and to oppose vehemently the arrival of more ‘big box’ retail outlets, such as Wal-Mart, in our town.”
The TAB says that this study has been under development for 15 months by the Department of Economic Development and planning. The goal of this work was to look at how to make the town’s tax base stronger, while improving the quality of life in Watertown. The study hopes to strengthening the identity of the town, promote investment in under-utilized areas, and shape the character of new development. Once the plan is adopted, it will take several years to develop policies to ‘shape’ development.
Readers are urged to email Watertown Town Council Presidnet Mark Sideris at: [email protected] with the following message: “Dear President Sideris, Watertown has an important choice to make: lead growth or follow it. If you do not lead growth, you will end up following the lead of big box developers. You cannot buy small town quality of life on any Wal-Mart shelf — and once they steal it from you — you can’t get it back at any price. The big box language in the plan should be adopted without change, to send a clear message to developers that very large scale stores are incompatible with the future growth plans of Watertown. The simplest zoning response is to place a cap of 50,000 s.f. on the size of new retail projects. A size cap is legal, and has been adopted by many communities across the nation. Begin by passing the plan at your August 9th Council meeting.”
Massachusetts has 47 Wal-Mart stores, but if residents of Watertown get their way, there won’t ever be a Wal-Mart store darkening this Boston suburb.