East Longmeadow, Massachusetts Selectman Jim Driscoll announced this week that he has filed a zoning by-law amendment that would place a dimensional limit on the size of retail stores as a means to protect East Longmeadow’s quality of life, and its unique, small town character. Residents in this small town near the Connecticut border have been organizing since last summer to stop a 147,054 s.f. Lowe’s big box proposal, but the size cap initiative would stop the South Carolina developer’s plans. Driscoll has submitted a motion that would be placed before East Longmeadow voters at the May 1st Town Meeting. “I want to give the voters of this community the opportunity to choose what growth in our town will be like,” Driscoll explained. “I have been hearing a rising chorus of constituents saying we cannot afford to be overrun by uncontrolled development, which will congest our streets, raise crime, and contribute little to our tax base. The time to act is now — not after our open space has all be paved over.” Driscoll’s zoning by-law would place a limit of 40,000 s.f. on the size of retail buildings, which is just shy of one acre in size, not counting the parking lot. A Planned Business Development (a shopping center) could have 65,000 s.f. The bylaw contains language to prevent a developer from building more than one building to get around the cap limits. The bylaw would not affect any existing businesses, but would apply to future developments. Driscoll noted that East Longmeadow has traditionally fostered small and locally owned business enterprises which reflect the surrounding neighborhood’s residential character and lifestyle characteristics, building scale, architectural style, and historical development. He said the town desires to foster land uses that are compatible in size and scale with the neighborhoods within the town, and wants to promote the efficient use of land, promote a safe and comfortable pedestrian-scale environment, and avoid congestion of traffic. Store size caps prevent the many negative impacts of big box development, such as increased traffic congestion and over-burdened public infrastructure. Driscoll said that in Mid-coast, Maine, for example, three town meeting votes enacted size caps of 35,000 s.f., or moratoriums on such developments, in the past two weeks. In all three cases, voters overwhelmingly approved the size limits. Driscoll said that among other New England communities that have already passed size limits, are the following: Belfast, Damariscotts, Newcastle and Nobleboro, Maine; Tolland and Wilton, Connecticut; Boxborough and Westford, Massachusetts; Walpole and Stratham, New Hampshire; Amherst, Aurora, North Elba and Skaneateles, New York. From Homer, Alaska to Tampa, Florida, communities have adopted size caps on retail stores. “I hear resident and homeowner concerns about uncontrolled growth loud and clear,” Driscoll said. “Ten years ago this was not an issue. We’re still a residential community with a vibrant, family-friendly lifestyle. I think voters will want to protect that.” This past week, Driscoll noted, the town of Stafford Springs, Connecticut passed a 40,000 s.f. cap, which stopped plans for a Wal-Mart supercenter there.
The East Longmeadow Planning Board will hold a public hearing on Driscoll’s amendment on Monday, April 10th. at 6:30 pm in the High School Auditorium. The citizen’s group East Longmeadow First has endorsed the size cap proposal, and has pledged to work in favor of its passage at the May 1st town meeting. For local contacts, email [email protected]