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2006-07-19
Lancaster, MA Wal-Mart Slides Over To the Next Town

When Wal-Mart tried to build a supercenter on Route 117 in Leominster, Massachusetts, they stirred up the animosity of area neighbors, who took the city and developer to court, and after ten months of preparing for court, the developer unceremoniously dumped Wal-Mart from its plans, and settled the lawsuit out of court. Wal-Mart packed its bags and began looking for a back-up site, and this week held an open house to tell residents in neighboring Lancaster, Massachusetts why they need a 202,000 s.f. supercenter. But the foes of the Wal-Mart store in Leominster have followed them into Lancaster, including Sprawl-Busters. The proposed Wal-Mart in Lancaster off Old Turnpike Road has no water or sewer to the site, so the plans call for the superstore to have its own well and septic system -- hardly a desirable configuration. The store is estimated by Wal-Mart to attract more than 11,000 car trips on a weekday, and has a parking lot to accommodate 900 cars. When Wal-Mart invited neighbors to look over the site plans, the Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise reported that "attendees proved tough to persuade, questioning the informational material Wal-Mart representatives provided and whether the town can support a retailer of such a size." "Lancaster has been wrestling with its identity and who it wants to be," one resident told the newspaper. "Wal-Mart can really stamp who you are. I'm not sure Wal-Mart should stamp Lancaster, considering its history as a small town." The site Wal-Mart chose is zoned light industrial, and does not allow shopping centers. But Wal-Mart will argue that it is not a shopping center. "They're preying on the consumer focus of our society," said another resident. "They'd rather have a product that's 10 cents cheaper and be indifferent to the social costs." "It may be more wonderful for people to shop more cheaply, but the cost to the taxpayer will be alarming," said another. Because there were many opponents in the audience, no formal presentation was given at the meeting, to avoid hostile questioning, but Wal-Mart's written material claimed the superstore would "create" nearly 450 jobs and create $200,000 in property taxes. (Sales taxes in Massachusetts go to the state for redistribution). These numbes are gross figures, and do not net out the lost jobs at other businesses in the trade area,which already has several grocery stores nearby. Property taxes will be offset by adding costs to the town, such as public safety to handle the increased volume of crime. The general feeling at this show-and-tell meeting was summed up by one neighbor, who told the Sentinel, "What we see here are pretty pictures and promises." An opposition group has formed, called Our Lancaster First. The group handed Wal-Mart officials 31 questions about the projects traffic, environmental and community impacts. Wal-Mart has hired a Boston public relations firm, Public Strategy Group, Inc to run its campaign with residents in Lancaster. The newspaper reported that only 15 people signed up on a sheet offering to help Wal-Mart come to town. A Wal-Mart representative was quoted as saying, "It's usually the folks who support you that don't come out. It's only the ones who are vehemently opposed or those who have legitimate concerns."

What you can do: The only reason Wal-Mart came to the small town of Lancaster is because they lost their fight in Leominster. It's the same trade area, just shifted a few miles. Opponents in Leominster hired economist Tom Muller to do an economic impact study of the Wal-Mart plan in their community, which involved 3 big box stores (Lowe's, Kohl's and Wal-Mart.) That study concluded that the big box project would not create new jobs, because existing jobs lost at other retailers would offset any gains, and that the net property tax gain would be $51,000, a small fraction of what the developer figured. Hearings on the Lancaster project begin in August. For local contacts with citizens in Lancaster fighting this project, email info@sprawl-busters.com.










 
 
"Norman has become the guru of the anti-Wal-Mart movement" ~ 60 Minutes

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