After two years of wrangling and lawsuits, a developer has reached an out of court settlement with neighbors in Leominster, Massachusetts. The settlement deletes a Wal-Mart supercenter as one of the large retailers in the proposed development. In a joint press release dated April 29th, New England Development and the plaintiffs in a lawsuit announced the settlement, saying they had “agreed to settle appeals by the plaintiffs relating to the Leominster Planning Board’s decision to grant a special permit and site plan approvals…for the construction of a mixed-use project along Route 117.” According to the release, “the parties have agreed not to disclose the specific details of the settlement, however, major provisions of the settlement that relate to the portion of the project on the south side of Route 117 include certain limits on hours of operations of certain tenants; the maximum square footage occupied by any single tenant; restrictions on overnight parking; and measures to mitigate noise and light pollution. ” The plaintiffs agreed to withdraw their appeal, and the joint statement added, “the parties feel that the settlement… will ultimately serve to mitigate the impact of and enhance the project previously approved by the Leominster planning board.” According to the Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise, the developer “ditched” Wal-Mart, and is now “looking at other retail stores” for the project. “Now that we’ve settled the lawsuit,” NED said, “we are speaking with potential tenants and redesigning the south side of the project to meet community needs.” Stanley Tuttle, one of the plaintiffs, noted, “From day one we were talking about the size and scale and scope of the project. Like all settlements, no one’s completely happy, but I think it’s something we can live with.” The original plan called for a 220,000 s.f. Wal-Mart on the south side of Route 117, along with a Kohl’s, and on the north side, a Lowe’s home improvement store. The north side of the project was not challenged in court, because there were no plaintiffs willing to come forward. The whole NED plan came to 510,000 s.f. Kohl’s became tired of waiting, and dropped out of the plan to build in North Leominster. The developer would not reveal if Wal-Mart dropped out of the plan, or if the developers dropped Wal-Mart. Leominster’s Mayor Dean Mazzarella, who wrote letters to state officials backing the plan before it even became public, intimated that he heard “Wal-Mart just couldn’t wait.” The Mayor couldn’t wait either, but in the end, he lost his much-touted Wal-Mart.
Sprawl-Busters was involved in this case since the beginning, and helped work with neighbors against the plan. The city hired a traffic consultant to do a “peer review” of Wal-Mart’s plans, but the consultant was working for the developer at a similar project in Maine. The Planning Board shrugged off testimony from economist Tom Muller that the project would create little or no property tax gain or jobs for the community. In Massachusetts, the sales tax goes to the state and is redistributed across the Commonwealth. Whether Wal-Mart dropped the developer, or the developer dropped Wal-Mart, the end result is the same: the neighbors in Leominster won’t have a 24 hour Wal-Mart to live with. Unfortunately, the project is still too large for the area, and wastes a valuable piece of industrial land for retail use. The city of Leominster still has no comprehensive land use plan, and has left much of its industrial land open for retail use by allowing “mixed use” projects to be almost entirely retail. Although the City Council has been presented with zoning amendments to close the what critics call the “mis-use” zone, the City Council has done nothing proactive. The Wal-Mart would have been located on industrial land, but not a single industrial job will come out of this project. For local contacts, email [email protected]