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2006-10-19
Billerica, MA. Home Depot To Return with Smaller Plan

Honey, they shrunk the Home Depot! Residents in Billerica, Massachusetts who have been fighting a Home Depot within an existing neighborhood shopping center in their community, learned October 16th that the home improvement retailer's plans hit the buzz-saw. Here's how leaders of Billerica First described the Billerica Planning Board hearing: "The Mall/Home Depot attorney asked for and received a continuance on their proposal until November 27. Attorney Steve Lentine told the Board that the developers are considering changing the proposal and submitting a more scaled-back plan for the Mall. While Lentine claimed he was 99% certain that a different plan would be proposed, he wanted to keep his options open until the developers were certain. There was visible frustration from the Planning Board, but they did grant Lentine the extension. As of now we do not know what this different proposal will entail. We have heard rumors that Burlington Coat Factory will close, and the proposed Home Depot would go forward in a smaller shopping center. The theory is that with a smaller shopping center, the traffic problems go away for the developer. We do not necessarily agree with this thinking. Another rumor, and a more palatable one, is that the proposed Home Depot will not be built and a different array of retail stores will go into a renovated mall. Obviously, this is preferable; we have always said a mix of medium sized stores and restaurants is more appropriate and in line with the Master Plan. However, we do not know what is in the cards right now." The Lowell Sun newspaper said the developer "shocked" the Planning Board that the $20 million "mall revitalization" project might be withdrawn and resubmitted on a smaller scale. "Information surfaced late Friday afternoon that may significantly reduce the scope of the project and the entire development of the mall," the lawyer for R.D. Management said. "Due to the potential changes, it really doesn't make sense to go forward with the traffic discussion." One Planning Board member suggested that the board should dismiss the entire plan outright. "How long are we going to sit here and listen to a proposal that is pretty much off of the table?" he asked. "You've disappointed many people this evening, and I am not sure it has helped your cause," another board member told the developer. If the plan is withdrawn and a new proposal submitted, the permitting process will begin again at square one. "This is a circus," Bob Casey, an organizer of Billerica First told the newspaper. "Is it possible that they just bought six more weeks to come up with a new traffic mitigation plan? They've had months to mitigate the traffic on his proposal. This is enough."

What you can do: Actually, any delay or change in Home Depot's plans is a plus for the community groups. Any loss of credibility by Home Depot helps the cause of Billerica First. The fact that an attorney would come before a Planning Board and surprise them by suggesting the developer might 'significantly reduce the scope of the project," is good news for opponents. The fact that the lawyer would not reveal the information that "surfaced" is also good. Clearly the developer is not laying out his cards to the Planning Board, but another six week delay gives opponents more time to write letters to the editor about the developer's shoddy performance this week, and the fact that they wasted the Planning Board's time because of their "secret" plan to change the project. For earlier stories, search Newsflash by "Billerica."










 
 
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