Seekonk, MA Wal-Mart Abandons Superstore Plans
Neighbors in the small community of Seekonk, Massachusetts were caught by surprise this week when they learned that the Wal-Mart they had been fighting since June of 2011 was dead.
"How do you know they pulled out?" one neighbor asked a reporter. "Haven't seen anything in the news. I'm sure my neighbors would love to comment, but they are going to ask me how I know."
But on March 1st, the story was published in the Seekonk-Swansea Patch. "We have made a business decision not to move ahead with a new supercenter in Seekonk," a Wal-Mart spokesman said in an email to the Patch. "Our existing store will continue to serve the community. We don't have any future plans to announce at this time, but we remain interested in growth, and we're always evaluating opportunities to serve more customers and give Massachusetts residents new options for jobs and affordable food."
Sprawl-Busters wrote about this Seekonk proposal on June 19, 2011, shortly after meeting with neighbors for a strategy session on how to stop the store. This was a little over a week after the Wal-Mart story first became public.
Wal-Mart representatives had approached this border community in Massachusetts to tear down an existing children's play center, known as Fantasyland, along with a golf course on 7 acres of land just off Route 6 to build their own fantasy of a huge 156,000 s.f. superstore. That's almost the size of 3 football fields just for the building.
Three days later, the proposal came before the town's Conservation Commission, because the project was going to have an effect on wetlands and a vernal pool located at the site. One of the significant problems with the proposed site was that it abuts residential property, and the dumpster for the location is only 40 feet from residential property. An intense commercial land use next to residential homes was an incompatible clash between zoning uses -- and will lead to lost values for nearby homeowners.
To make matter worse, there was already an existing Wal-Mart in Seekonk large enough to do an 'in-box conversion' into a superstore without further town approvals. Wal-Mart had already announced that its existing store in Seekonk would be emptied and sold.
To move the project forward, Wal-Mart needed to build within the 100 foot buffer zone of the vernal pool on the site. The corporation needed a variance from the town's Conservation Commission to encroach on the buffer zone before going to the Planning or Zoning Boards for site plan approval or any special permit. According to the Seekonk Patch, the vernal pool contained fairy shrimp, but the developer's representatives from Bohler Engineering stated that species in the vernal pool would not be harmed by the project.
But the Conservation Commission was not pleased with the idea of allowing building within the 100 foot buffer zone. Allowing such construction in the vernal pool buffer zone would be a precedent for the Commission.
The Wal-Mart engineers were asked the obvious question: why not reduce the size of the store and take the project out of the buffer zone. Bohler's representative said that a smaller store "wouldn't be ideal," according to the Patch. This prompted one member of the Planning Board to comment: "It wouldn't be good for Wal-Mart. That's the answer." The Conservation Commission did not agree to construction in the buffer zone, but asked Wal-Mart to consider ways to mitigate the impact.
Over the 20 months that neighbors opposed this project, it was altered at least twice by Wal-Mart in an attempt to salvage the plan -- but in the end, it was Wal-Mart itself that pulled the plug.
The Town's Administrator told The Patch she was disappointed by the news of Wal-Mart's demise. But now she doesn't have to worry about the prospect of an empty Wal-Mart sitting for years on Route 6 less than half a mile from the now-defunct proposal.
What you can do: Seekonk residents who contacted Sprawl-Busters noted that there were well over 100 residents who were upset by Wal-Mart's hop-scotch development. Neighbors complained that the huge building was far too close to homeowners, and did not even have a sound wall or other mechanism to buffer the building from nearby homes.
In addition to the rules of the state's Wetlands Protection Act, the town of Seekonk also has its own Wetlands Protection Bylaw. Under that Bylaw, the Conservation Commission can require a developer to maintain a strip of "continuous, undisturbed vegetative cover within the 200-foot [or 100-foot] area, unless the applicant convinces the Commission that the area or part of it maybe disturbed without harm to the values protected by the bylaw."
The developer also had to show that it has "no practicable alternative to the proposed property use, overall project purpose... logistics, existing technology, costs of the alternatives, and overall project costs." Wal-Mart failed to produce such evidence.
Readers are urged to email Francis Cavaco, Chair of the Seekonk Board of Selectman, at firstname.lastname@example.org with the following message:
"Dear Chairman Cavaco,
For almost two years, the shadow of a frivolous Wal-Mart project clouded the lives of homeowners abutting the proposed site for the Wal-Mart superstore. Some moved away as a solution. This project was much too close to residential homes, and was incompatible with residential uses. It should never have gone beyond the fantasy stage.
It is frivolous town planning to allow Wal-Mart to shut down their existing building half a mile away, just so a larger building can replace it. What was the town going to do with a dead Wal-Mart on its hands -- and who would have paid to demolishe that building if no other buyer came along?
Instead of this wasteful proposal, Wal-Mart should have been told back in the summer of 201l to just convert their existing store into a supercenter, rather than creating another 'ghost box' in Seekonk.
It is important for the Selectmen to protect homeowners, and prevent wasteful development, which will not create any net new jobs or property taxes. Wal-Mart should learn to live with what it's got, rather than playing leapfrog development in Seekonk.
Now Seekonk has a chance to pass an ordinance limiting the size of any retail store to 40,000 s.f. and requiring any store over 30,000 s.f. to be approved by the voters at the next regularly scheduled town election, and approved in the precinct in which it is located. If we are willing to give voters the right to vote on casinos, the same should be true for big box stores.
Open one, shut one. That's the land use equation Wal-Mart has used for years across America, wasting thousands of acres of land to expand its operations by building bigger superstores and closing down 'old' buildings across the street or down the road. Such leapfrog development has made Wal-Mart one of the most unsustainable real estate companies operating today.
The town of Seekonk is better off without them."