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2004-05-08
Hadley, MA: Town Auctions Off Its Zoning to Lowe's For $410,000

In the town of Hadley, Massachusetts, everything you see is for sale -- including zoning. The town has already thoroughly sprawled its main highway, but the congestion is not over yet. After three unsuccessful attempts to rezone some land for a Lowe's, the developer's gifts finally attracted just enough voters. Here's a direct account from residents opposed to the zoning auction in their town: "The developer of a Lowe’s Home Improvement Store has agreed to pay the town an unprecedented $410,000 to compensate for the loss of farmland where a new Lowe’s store is to be built. The $410,000 payment is believed to
be one of the largest such retail compensatory agreement in Massachusetts. On May 5, Hadley Town Meeting voters approved by a narrow six-vote margin the rezoning of 12.8 acres of a local farm so that a larger Lowe’s store can be built on Route 9, the town’s main thoroughfare. The vote was linked to a legal agreement, hammered out by town officials and citizens, to provide substantial funds for farmland protection, recreational amenities and long range planning. The deal also includes permanent restrictions on the size of future development at the site. “Hadley is like many communities in America where large retailers are coming in looking special favors, like rezoning and tax breaks,” says Jade Barker, a member of Hadley Neighbors for Sensible Development. “This agreement shows that rather than giving out favors, communities should actually get something in return from these companies. In Hadley, we’ll now be able to protect some farmland, which is among the richest topsoil in the county. But it’s still very troubling that a corporation has been able to come in and buy our zoning. Zoning should create the best land use for everyone—not auction it off to the highest bidder.” Citizens in Hadley have waged a 10-month struggle against Lowe’s, which has sought to expand the town’s business district. Hadley Neighbors, with a core group of 20 members and many supporters, worked to block the rezoning at three Town Meetings. Town officials have credited the group with forcing Lowe’s to finally pay up. At the first vote, in August 2003, the company offered nothing. In December 2003, Lowe’s agreed to pay $1 million to Austin, Texas, for a store to be built there. In New England, Lowe’s is planning to open 75 new stores. Nationally, Lowe's operates 975 stores in 45 states and is opening new stores at the rate of two per week. The company's 2004 budget for new stores is $3.7 billion. The payment to Hadley represents .01% of that budget. Lowe’s CEO, Bob Tillman, was paid $4.4 million in 2003, according to Forbes Magazine. Citizens are still worried about impacts from the new Lowe’s store. It is to be located less
than a mile from a future Home Depot, generating estimated combined traffic increases of 50% to 80%. Because of the size of the Lowe’s store—more than four football fields—the developer will also have to pay for numerous traffic safety improvements, noise and visual buffers, utility upgrades and other infrastructure that are not included in the farmland protection agreement. The store will sit on a two-lane section of Route 9 where traffic already backs up and accidents happen frequently. Hadley has just 5,000 residents, but is accessible to several other more populated communities in the region. “This $410,000 agreement really sets the standard for what every community facing a Lowe’s, or a Home Depot, or a Wal-Mart should expect,” says David Elvin, another member of Hadley Neighbors. “These kinds of large retail stores put incredible pressures on local roads and the environment—and force other smaller stores out of business and off the local tax roles. It’s only fair that they give something back to the communities they are inconveniencing.”



What you can do: Additional information on the remarkable Hadley zoning auction is available at www.HadleyNeighbors.org










 
 
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