Wal-Mart hates to give up on any chance to make a few extra bucks, and the retailer has been known to become fixated on entering certain markets, even in the face of earlier rejections.
This is the case with Greenfield, Massachusetts, where the company lost a rezoning battle 17 years ago, but never gave up the dream of dominating this small rural trade area.
Greenfield is a community with only 18,000 people — and the population has actually declined over the past two decades. When the company first applied to locate a 134,000 s.f. store on the edge of town, an economic impact study conducted for the town described the area as a “stagnant market.”
Not much has changed over the past two decades — except that all the regional discount stores have been squeezed out of business by the giant chain stores. Retailers like Ames, Rich’s, Caldors and Bradlees have all disappeared as market share changed hands in favor of the larger players.
Since the late 1990s, Greenfield has had no discount retailer. Ames was the last to shut down in 1998 — and residents began to feel the loss of any discount shopping. In 2003, voters rezoned land near the original Wal-Mart site from industrial to commercial — opening the door for a second Wal-Mart battle.
Because of their high profile defeat here in 1993, Wal-Mart has hidden behind a Connecticut developer, and not announced its intentions. Yet 37 miles to the west of Greenfield, Wal-Mart is openly working with the same developer on a superstore project in North Adams, Massachusetts.
On August 7, 2007, Sprawl-Busters reported that developer Louis J. Ceruzzi of Fairfield, Connecticut, was flooding the Greenfield Conservation Commission with plans to destroy a wetland on the site, and pave it over with a big box building. But that plan never came to pass, and local citizens forced the retailer to settle with state officials from the Department of Environmental Protection to move off the small wetland entirely, and restore the area, which has been polluted with oil contamination by the current property owner, the Mackin Construction company.
The Connecticut developer began working on this site in 2005, and has never once revealed who his tenant is. After citizen opposition, Ceruzzi was given a Superceding Order of Conditions to proceed with his project, which forced him to propose an unconventional, jagged store around the wetland. But in so doing, he refused to shrink the store below its original size. It was submitted to the town’s Planning Deparment at 160,000.s.f.
Citizens opposed to the project say a smaller scale project would mitigate the adverse impacts to buffer zones and other areas being intruded upon, and cause less traffic congestion on roads leading to the site.
At the same time as Ceruzzi was advancing his proposal, the landowner, the Mackin Construction Company, had been dealing with pollution on the site from years of operating a fuel oil business. Mackin claimed that the controversial wetland 4 was so polluted that it had become a public safety hazard and must be dug up and replicatee elsewhere. But that plan too was challenged, and now Mackin has to restore the wetland where it exists now.
Work is supposedly underway to restore the wetland, and at the state’s suggestion, to actually expand it. But the Wal-Mart footprint will come within 25 feet of the wetland along its north side.
On July 30th, Ceruzzi presented a revised project to the Greenfield Planning Board. The developer shrunk his box footprint to 135,000 s.f. by dropping the garden center. The tenant is still not identified. The plan includes a huge parking lot that is 90% larger than required, and leaves room for the developer to add other smaller buildings.
The Planning Board, which expects to take up the proposal at a hearing on September 2nd, will take up the issues of building size, traffic impacts, and economic impacts.
The current Mayor of Greenfield, Bill Martin, indicated publicly that he did not want a 160,000 s..f store, and the President of the Town Council, Tim Farrell, said he did not favor a large, single tenant box store. But the latest proposal at 135,000 s.f. is almost exactly the same size as the Wal-Mart project rejected by voters back in 1993.
Abutting neighbors remain opposed to a store of this scale, and have vowed to pursue their legal rights if the store is approved at the new size. The neighbors have asked that the store be cut in half. If the project was reduced in scale and put on two floors, it could substantially change the entire character of the project, which is located in a special “corridor overlay zone” which requires creation of an “attractive entryway into Greenfield… to minimize traffic congestion.” Even at a slightly reduced scale, the project as proposed violates the intent of the overlay zone.
The developer has submitted an incomplete economic impact plan that fails to address at all the potential for this store to close down other existing merchants in the area. The fiscal study author admits his report “focused on direct impacts related to the project, and does not address potential indirect or induced impacts elsewhere in the community or the region.”
The author of this study in 2010 also did the 1993 fiscal impact study, which concluded in one scenario offered that a 134,272 s.f. store would result in the loss of $15.5 million from existing retailers, and result in the closure of more than 103,000 s.f. of existing retail space. The net impact on Greenfield was only $30,667. If other retailers close as anticiipated, the net fiscal impact of the current project on the town would be a negative number. No sales tax is kept locally by municipalities in Massachusetts. It goes to the state for redistribution.
The traffic patterns for this project will also requiring adding a new traffic light 1,000 feet from an existing light on the Route 2 intersection, and force certain side street intersections to see a drop in their level of service. Residents on one street near the project would be unable to make left turns for 4 hours every weekday if the project proceeds as proposed.
At 135,000 s.f. the Wal-Mart in Greenfield would be the largest retail building in the region — larger than similar Wal-Marts in nearby Orange, Hadley and Northampton, Massachusetts.
Mayor Bill Martin has met with abuttors, and heard out their complaints about this project. Unlike his predecessor, Martin has not unconditionally supported big box retailers. The former Mayor staked her political credibility on producing a big box store for Greenfield, even though the community already has a BJ’s Wholesale Club, several Dollar Stores, and a Home Depot. She was voted out of office.
When the Greenfield Ames closed 12 years ago, Wal-Mart declined to locate in the Ames location, and Home Depot took the property instead. The 19 acre parcel now being considered on Route 2A is right across the street from the 61 acre parcel where Wal-Mart was defeated in 1993. The land itself has been strip mined almost down to the water table, and suffered from multiple spills of petroleum products into the ground.
Readers are urged to send an email to Greenfield Mayor Bill Martin at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor Martin, Please tell Wal-Mart that residents in your town are willing to ‘split the difference’ between their original plan for a 160,000 s.f. store, and is acceptable to the neighbors at 80,000 s.f.
Wal-Mart does not need a store this big for the size of your market area, and a smaller store could avoid all the adverse impacts on wetland buffer zones, traffic congestion, and other environmental concerns.
You are right to want a smaller store — but what the developer is now offering take the project down to the size Wal-Mart originally proposed 17 years ago.
Please use your office to influence just two votes on the Planning Board, to reject a special permit on any project at 135,000 s.f. This is not a sustainable design, and definitely will not help revitalize your downtown, which you have worked hard to advance.
Building a huge, energy-inefficient, land consumptive, automobile-dependent, unwalkable project no longer is compatible with the ‘greening of Greenfield’ which you have committed to. Make this project fit Greenfield, not the reverse.”