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2006-12-22
Leominster, MA. Wal-Mart Returns To Site Of Earlier Defeat

On May 3, 2005, Sprawl-Busters reported that a 220,000 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter on route 117 in Leominster, Massachusetts was pulled from a developer's plan to settle a lawsuit brought by neighbors against a larger retail complex. After two years of wrangling and lawsuits, the developer and plaintiffs reached an out of court settlement. The settlement deleted the Wal-Mart supercenter as one of the large retailers in the proposed development. In a joint press release, New England Development and the plaintiffs announced the settlement, saying they had "agreed to settle appeals by the plaintiffs relating to the Leominster Planning Board's decision to grant a special permit and site plan approvals...for the construction of a mixed-use project along Route 117." According to the release, "the parties have agreed not to disclose the specific details of the settlement, however, major provisions of the settlement that relate to the portion of the project on the south side of Route 117 include certain limits on hours of operations of certain tenants; the maximum square footage occupied by any single tenant; restrictions on overnight parking; and measures to mitigate noise and light pollution. " One year and seven months later, Wal-Mart is back on the very same spot, proposing a supercenter again -- but this time 19% smaller. The terms of the legal settlement called for no single store to exceed 180,000 s.f., so Wal-Mart came in at 179,000 s.f. The proposed store will not operate 24/7, and will have to meet certain noise and light standards. But other than that -- they are back on the same spot. A press release from Wal-Mart issued on December 20, 2006 says the company "has purchased an option" on the land from New England Development. The land already has a special permit, since it was zoned for industry, not retail. "Wal-Mart is excited to offer increased savings to the Leominster community through a new supercenter," the company said. The announcement by Wal-Mart was met with disbelief by residents in neighboring Lancaster, Massachusetts, where residents have organized to fight a superstore less than three miles to the east on Old Union Turnpike. The two supercenters would literally be less than 5 minutes apart. The Lancaster project has drawn fierce opposition from local residents. "We want to make it clear," Wal-Mart said in response, "that we are committed to serving both the Lancaster and the Leominster communities. Our real estate department conducted a through review and discovered that the region is being underserved in terms of retail development. We are excited to continue moving forward with both of these projects."

What you can do: The area that Wal-Mart says is "underserved" in terms of retail has a new Target less than 2 miles away, a new Kohl's, a Home Depot, a proposed Lowe's, and Wal-Mart discount stores 5 miles away in Lunenberg, 12 miles away in West Boylston, 12 miles away in Gardner, and 15 miles away in Hudson. If one or two supercenters are built, the smaller Wal-Mart discount stores will be closed. The area also has new grocery store owners in Hannaford's, which bought out the family-owned Victory supermarket chain. In all, Wal-Mart itself has 11 discount stores within 25 miles of these two sites. The announcement by Wal-Mart that they want to try again in Leominster, was met with outright disbelief by area residents, who assume Wal-Mart has no intention of "serving both" sites just 3 miles apart. The citizen's group, Our Lancaster First, charges that Wal-Mart knows its Lancaster site is a loser, and so has gone to plan B. The Lancaster site has no water or sewer service, and has some major legal problems related to the zoning code in Lancaster. Our Lancaster First has vowed to continue the battle, and has offered to help residents in Leominster. But the citizen's group Leominster First, has not been active in 19 months, and will be hampered by the fact that the land already has a special permit for retail development. It still has to go through a site plan a review, and possibly review by the state Environmental Policy Act office. But Wal-Mart's credibility is challenged by this latest "déjà vu" in returning to the scene of their defeat in 2005. Very few people in the region would give any credence to the notion that two Wal-Mart supercenters packed like bookends, are really needed, or desirable. Wal-Mart originally proposed its Leominster project in 2003, so citizen activists have put them off schedule by 4 years already. For local contacts, email info@sprawl-busters.com













 
 
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