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2007-08-07
Greenfield, MA. Wal-Mart Developer Pulls Back Plans—For Now

A Connecticut developer, Louis J. Ceruzzi of Fairfield, has suddenly withdrawn his Notice of Intent (NOI) to build a 160,000 s.f. Wal-Mart in Greenfield, Massachusetts, on a site just across the street from where the giant retailer was defeated in 1993. That confrontation led to the founding of Sprawl-Busters. Fourteen years later, Wal-Mart is back -- although the company has publicly made no commitment to the project. The NOI is a step in the process of getting approval for a project under the state's Wetlands Protection Act. The developer must get local officials to approve their building plans, and to show minimal impact on the site's more than 6 wetland areas. The problem for this project is that one of the wetlands lies where the developer wants to put the parking lot for the huge project -- which is twice the size of any retail store in the town's history. The town of Greenfield has a local wetlands by law that makes replication possible only as a last resort, putting the project in a legal swamp. To build the Wal-Mart, wetland 4 must be paved over, and replicated elsewhere on the site. But since replication is not allowed, the developer must try to get the town to ignore its own bylaw. That may be easy to do, since the Conservation Commission is appointed by the Mayor, and the Mayor of Greenfield, the project's biggest supporter, recently fired the chair of the Commission to clear the way for her own appointees. But the withdrawal yesterday of the NOI was simply a matter of maneuvering into position by the developer, because the new members appointed by the Mayor cannot vote on the project under state law, because they are arriving on the board in the middle of the case. When the Mayor canned the chair of the Commission, another member quit, leaving only 3 people in the Commission. The developer needed all three remaining votes for a NOI approval. To better the odds, and let the Mayor's appointments start at the beginning, the developer simply pulled his plans "without prejudice," and is expected to refile soon, ''These people will be bac," said Sprawl-Buster's founder Al Norman. ''This is just a strategy the developer is using to get around a challenge it knew it would lose.'' A couple of weeks ago, Norman requested in writing that the two newest members of the five-member commission excuse themselves from any discussions or votes concerning the project. The commission's own rules and regulations state an ongoing issue should only be heard by members who have attended all portions of a wetlands hearing. He threatened that if the two new members voted, their votes would be contested. ''A notice of intent requires three positive votes to be accepted,'' said Norman. ''With only three original members sitting on the commission, I think everyone knew they wouldn't get three positive votes and the issue would be dead.'' According to The Recorder newspaper, Mayor Christine Forgey said she didn't know why the developer chose to withdraw. ''Actions and proceedings of this nature by developers aren't uncommon when you're dealing with a development of this complexity, even if there aren't any issues with the project,'' said the town's lawyer. ''We're not too concerned about all of this,'' said the Mayor. ''There are other developers interested in the property and we aren't sure what this developer is going to do yet. They do have the right to resubmit because they withdrew without prejudice.''

What you can do: The Mayor of Greenfield has staked her political credibility on producing a big box store for Greenfield, even though the community already has a BJ's Wholesale Club, several Dollar Stores, and a Home Depot. But discount shopping has been missing since competition from area Wal-Mart's forced the Ames discount chain to close regionally in 1998. When Ames closed, Wal-Mart declined to locate there, and Home Depot took the property instead. ''There's been a lot of controversy with this development, but through it all, we have maintained that we would follow the letter of the law, both state and local, in moving this project forward,'' the Mayor noted. Opponents have asked the Mayor to step down from the Conservation Commission, where she sits as a non-voting, ex officio memo. The Mayor has lobbied her own appointees on the Commission, and is trying to serve as both major proponent and regulator of the project at the same time. A local group is fighting the project. The Voice of High Street says the project is too big, and in the wrong location. The 19 acre parcel is on the edge of town on a sensitive piece of wetland, and would generate 12,500 car trips on a Saturday, one third of which will have to come down the major residential corridor of High Street. The developer recently filed a two volume environmental impact report with the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act Office and the public has until August 10th to submit comments to the state. "This developer has spent several hundred thousand dollars on plans and studies and it's not going to just leave,'' said Norman. ''They knew they would have been challenged legally and lost so they've found another way around all of this. 'The developer will resubmit in a short period of time,'' he predicted. ''This is a setback in terms of time, but they'd rather lose time than lose the project.''










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

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