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2007-09-10
Freetown, MA. Small Town Passes Big Box Cap

On May 5, 2007 Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart had filed an application to build a superstore on top of a former coal ash landfill in Freetown, Massachusetts, with rare turtle habitat, and millions of dollars of needed traffic improvements. Developer K.R. Rezendes proposed a Fly Ash Landfill Redevelopment on 81.38 acres, which operated until 2002, when it ceased accepting and disposing of coal ash. 80% of the landfill has been capped, and the remaining 20% uncapped landfill will be filled over as part of the "Payne's Crossing" project. This huge retail project will create 40 acres of impervious surface area. It also contains nearly 10 acres of bordering vegetated wetlands, and nesting habitat for the Diamondback Terrapin, a state protected threatened species. In Phase I the fly ash landfill would be closed, followed by construction of a 170,000 s.f. home improvement store, a 217,000 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter, and 1,600 parking spaces. In phase II, 95,700 sf of retail space would be added in five separate retail buildings, plus another 380 parking spaces. More than 482,000 s.f. of stores would be built in total. This massive project would generate more than 25,100 car trips on a Saturday. Local residents have been fighting the project since the day the project was first announced. Residents went on the defensive, and got the town recently to pass a new zoning by-law "intended to preserve the small town character of the town of Freetown by limiting the size of retail establishments, wholesale establishments, and shopping centers." Under the "cap" bylaw, "no single retail business, whether located in a single structure, a combination of structures, single tenant space, or aggregate of structures or tenant spaces in an aggregate of structures, shall exceed 25,000 s.f of floor area." Any adjacent retail "which shares a common check stand, management, controlling ownership, or storage areas shall be considered a 'single retail business' and their aggregate square footage or floor area" is calculated into the size cap. The same 25,000 s.f. cap is applied to whole businesses, and to shopping centers. The bylaw also says all shopping centers and retail stores must be located on land that has at least 70,000 s.f. in area, and 20% of that land area must remain open space. The bylaw does allow a store or shopping center to exceed 25,000 s.f. in an industrial zone -- but only with a Special Permit from the planning board. The town also added a Site Plan Review bylaw that is designed to "protect neighboring properties against harmful effects of uses on the development site."

What you can do: One of the organizers in Freetown of this effort to stop the Wal-Mart project, and to rewrite the town's zoning bylaw, wrote to Sprawl-Busters this week saying, "We are having a meeting with the developers and the landowners, our attorneys, their attorneys, and various and sundry political reps on September 13, 2007. It's going to be a helluva show." Last week, the Assonet Bay Action Committee held a public rally in protest of Payne's Crossing. 30 people stood on the street corners holding "Stop" signs which read, "No Mega-Mall." "My family has been here for 200 years, and I don't like the changes," one resident, a retired doctor, told South Coast Today. "The traffic would be too heavy for this sort of street. They want to expand a small part of road and think that it will solve everything. How much good is that? It is like an aneurism in an artery of the heart. Everyone knows an aneurism will burst." Many of the residents also say the new store will destroy important turtle habitat -- a threatened species. "Where are the turtles going to lay their eggs if they build a Wal-Mart on the land where they nest?" an 8-year-old asked, holding up a handmade sign which read, "Save Our Turtles and Toads" sign. Activists Jim Byers pointed out that there are "five Wal-Marts within 13 miles of here." The Action committee says that studies from the University of California and University of Illinois show that "big-box" developments cost communities a national average of $0.44 per 1,000 square feet. That translates to Freetown taxpayers spending $200,000 per year over and above any tax revenue generated by the development, the group maintains. The developer has estimated that the project will generate $500,000 of additional tax revenue per year -- but has said nothing of expenses to the town. One Freetown selectmen has proposed a "formula business" overlay extension bylaw, which seeks to limit some development, and an Outdoor Lighting Bylaw, which is designed to limit light pollution. If this project is able to escape the new "cap" bylaw because it was submitted before the bylaw was adopted, it may well be the last big box project in Freetown. But in this small community of less than 9,000 people, this huge project would be a character-altering proposal for several decades. Readers are urged to call the Freetown Board of Selectmen at 508-644-3342, or email them at: selectmen@town.freetown.ma.us. Tell them, "The Payne's Crossing project is all pain, and no gain, for Freetown. The project is far too large for the area, will produce negative environmental and economic impacts on the community, and is completely incompatible with the small town character of Freetown. Free Freetown from Payne's Crossing."










 
 
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