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2006-02-25
Hadley, MA Proposal To Cap Size of Retail Heads To Town Meeting

Over the years, the town of Hadley, Massachusetts has destroyed hundreds of acres of prime farmland, creating a strip of roadside sprawl that congests the roadways linking the college communities of Amherst and Northampton. Local officials have passively accepted a Kmart (which closed), a Wal-Mart, a Target, a Home Depot, and a Lowe's, just to mention a few. Residents have fought back against most of these plans. Most recently, Wal-Mart has proposed closing its discount store, and building a supercenter a stone's throw away. The town's Planning Board, which Sprawl-Busters affectionately calls the "Hardly Planning Board," has told citizens for years that they are unable to limit the scale of projects because in 1989 the town voted against placing a cap on buildings. Seventeen years later, a group of Hadley residents wants to resurrect a good idea, and even though the horses are out of the barn, they want to prevent the barn from burning itself down. Seventy Hadley residents have signed a petition to create a ''Compatible Building Size Bylaw,'' that would restrict all commercial buildings to a 25,000-s.f. footprint and 50,000-s.f. total building size. To reach the 50,000 s.f. limit, a developer would simply build a facility on two levels, something even Wal-Mart is now doing in urban areas. Cap proponent David Elvin told the Hampshire Gazette that the ordinance would make the town's zoning code compatible with goals and strategies found in the town's Long Range Plan, which town residents unanimously approved last fall. ''This is the next step in implementing the Long Range Plan,'' Elvin said. ''The Long Range Plan cites business size limitations as an immediate and high priority.'' Under state law, a zoning amendment has to garner a two-thirds vote at a town meeting, so the ordinance will not come up for a vote until late spring. Elvin said the bylaw will not affect projects already in the planning stages, including the Lowe's home improvement store and the Wal-Mart Supercenter. In addition, Elvin explained the draft ordinance allows developers to request a variance to the Zoning Board of Appeals, which would give the public the chance to comment on whether certain projects above the cap limit should be allowed in some circumstances, such as an office park with lower traffic volume.

What you can do: The town of Amherst, New York just implemented a size cap, and several towns in Mid Coast Maine are voting on size caps in March. Scores of towns across the state have already taken this very simple, and legal, approach of dimensional limits. For those stories, search the Newsflash database by "cap", and by "Hadley" for earlier stories on this sprawled town.










 
 
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