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2007-03-18
Hudson, NH. “Lifestyle” Big Box Center Draws Opponents

W/S Development Inc. of Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts has been promoting big box stores throughout New England for more than 20 years. Nearly everywhere they go, they stir up intense opposition, as in Sturbridge, Billerica, Reading, and Dedham, Massachusetts. The developer's more recent offerings are now called "lifestyle centers," and invariably come with opponents at every turn, as in Ellsworth, Maine and Reading, Massachusetts. A "lifestyle" proposal from W/S Development was rejected recently in Reading. Now the company hopes to build one of the largest retail projects in New England in the small town of Hudson, New Hampshire. The project will include at least one big box store. W/S has proposed a mixed-use development on the 375-acre site of the Green Meadow Golf Course. The first phase would be a 1.1 million s.f. "open-air shopping plaza" modeled after a town square or downtown, with big sidewalks, outdoor entrances to shops and restaurants, a public ice-skating rink and an entertainment district with a 16-screen movie theater. In later phases, the so-called "RiverPlace Project" will add a hotel and conference center, an office park, 600 apartments or condos, an outdoor amphitheater, a riverwalk and big-box retailers. A big project like this often runs into big opposition, and the Hudson plan is no exception. Two citizens groups are joining forces to block the project. Friends of Green Meadow (FGM) and Hudson Grass Roots Central (HGRC) are attending every town board meeting at this point. Friends of Green Meadow is comprised of people who live around the golf course, and the Hudson Grassroots Central is made up of more than 70 people who oppose the plan. W/S submitted its plans in January, and the its first step was not auspicious. On February 7, 2007, the Hudson Planning Board voted unanimously to "return" the plan to the developer, explaining that because the project impacted wetlands on the property, exemptions were first needed from the town's Zoning Board of Adjustments. The W/S project includes a connector road that will impact over five acres of wetlands along one border of the Green Meadow property. One Hudson resident who has grown weary of watching stores like Wal-Mart come to town, said at a citizens' group meeting, "Each time developments are proposed, we're promised lower taxes. We were told that when Wal-Mart and Sam's Club came; but in the 50 years I've lived in Hudson, I've never seen my taxes go down."

What you can do: Hudson's town planner told the media, "Because this is affecting wetlands there is a litany of permits that needed to be obtained at the town and state level... No one knows how long it's going to take. The permitting process itself may take from several months to up to a year." In addition to local review, the project also will need approval from the state Department of Environmental Services (DES) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But such permits are not usually hard to get, and local opposition is the most critical arena. The project returns to the Hudson Planning Board on March 28th. One of the managers for W/S said "there are a lot of moving parts to this." Local residents want all those parts to simply move -- to somewhere else. These projects are called "lifestyle centers" because they enhance the lifestyle of the developer. For local contacts in Hudson, email info@sprawl-busters.com For related stories search by "Weiner."










 
 
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