Maynard, MA. Residents Seek To Stop Wal-Mart Project At Town Meeting Vote
Residents in the small town of Maynard, Massachusetts (2010 pop. 10,106) have just over one month to try to derail a big box project that is widely believed to include a Wal-Mart supercenter.
The 58 acre parcel is owned by the Lone Star Funds of Dallas, Texas, which bought the property for roughly $3.6 million in a bank foreclosure sale. The land once housed the Digital Corporation, and the parcel is now zoned NBOD -- Neighborhood Business Overlay District. Big box stores are clearlyl not "neighborhood-based," but rely on larger, regional trade areas.
Lone Star Funds is a private equity firm specializing in asset acquisitions, refinancing, and distressed debt. According to local residents in Maynard, a developer called The Capital Group Properties of Southborough MA is proposing to develop the site by expanding a 2007 town-approved zoning plan.
The developer has proposed a zoning by-law amendment which would increase the allowable square-footage of retail from its current limit of 175,000 sq ft to 328,000 sq ft, and to increase the allowed number of residential units from 100 to 250. In exchange, they are offering the town the use of a 50 year old office building on the site. The actual site plan proposal, however, has been altered by The Capital Group several times, delaying the review process.
For this project to proceed, the developer must get its zoning by-law amendment and concept plan approved by a two-thirds vote at a Special Town Meeting on May 19, 2013. The developer has written its own by-law amendment to allow for the whole zoning and concept plan to be approved at once.
The developer has paid for a major charm offensive in Maynard, hiring a PR firm specializing in anti-NIMBY campaigns, and pasting the town with mailers, phone calls, presentations to every group in town and weekly open houses. "Many residents are opposed," one resident told Sprawl-Busters, "but victory is far from certain." A group called Our Town Maynard has been submitting letters to the editor, hand-delivering flyers and speaking up at every town meeting.
The Capital Group says on its website that it has met with over 1,000 Maynard residents. "We've listened," the developer says. "There will not be a 'big box' store under this project." The developer now says the largest retail store on the site will be 85,000 s.f., and will "likely be" a grocery store. The Capital Group's original master plan showed a 151,709 SF single story building on the south side of the property.
The group Our Town Maynard has forced the developer to post responses on its website to defend its project. The developer claims "there is a void of retail shopping areas," yet there are no less than 7 Wal-Mart's within 20 miles of Maynard, including the Hudson superstore 8 miles away.
Capital Group says the development plan approved in 2007 included a 60,000 sf grocery store within a total of 175,000 s.f. of retail space, while their 2013 plan contains 348,109 s.f. of retail-nearly two times as much as the original approved plan
The Capital Group claims that its project will be valued at $43 million, and generate $1 million in tax revenue to the town. Unfortunately, the developer was forced to dispute the finding of the Chairman of the town assessors, who wrote that the retail portion of the Shoppes At Maynard Crossing would drive up municipal expenses by $155,580. But the developer admits that the non-educational costs of this project to the town would be $689 per capita, or nearly $7 million, plus $360,480 in school expenses for 32 new students. The Chair of the Assessors estimated that the net additional revenues to the town would be less than $300,000 -- less than one-third of what the developer has promised.
In March, the Maynard Conservation Commission also weighed in, warning residents that "based on the information presented on the concept plan, portions of the project do not appear to comply with the Wetland Protection Act and the Maynard Wetlands Administrative Bylaw." The Conservation Commission told the Planning Board that "certain aspects of the [developer's town meeting]Article which, if adopted, could compromise or contradict environmental protections now in effect."
The developer has also promised 600 "potential new full time and part time jobs," but that figure was not produced independently, and fails to account for any jobs lost at competitive retailers.
The Capital Group estimates that "68% of all retail dollars spent by Maynard residents are spent outside of Maynard in adjacent towns." But the developer fails to explain that in Massachusetts, sales taxes collected locally do not remain local, but are paid to the state for redistribution among 356 cities and towns. A dollar spent at Wal-Mart does not have the same recirculation effect than a dollar spent at a locally-owned business.
This property abuts wetlands/conservation land, a brand new high school, and residential neighborhoods on all other sides. As one Maynard resident has said, the intensity of the proposed use is toally inconsistent with small town Maynard. "It's like putting a Carnival Cruise Ship on Walden Pond."
What you can do: The Capital Group says "Because of the location of the property and limited highway access, the project is not sustainable without a larger draw type tenant such as a grocery store or larger scale general retail establishment. Without a draw, the project won't succeed long term....There are no tenants for the project to date because no anchor tenant will commit until the town meeting has approved the zoning, and smaller tenants will not commit until an anchor tenant commits to the project."
What the developer is really saying is that to make a good profit on these 58 acres they need some big tenants. It has nothing to do with the lcoal retial market in Maynard.
The developer also says that the 2013 plan "has spaces for larger national tenants which will complement the businesses downtown, not directly compete with them...ĚNeither the plan approved in 2006, nor the proposed 2013 concept plan will impact residential real estate values in a negative manner. There has been no information provided by the opponents of this project to substantiate this statement."
But the developer has produced no conclusive information to support this assertion that residential property values will remain stable as traffic counts rise dramatically. Yet The Capital Group concludes: "Rather, the project if developed should actually result in a slight increase in real estate values in the neighborhoods surrounding the project."
The Board of Selectmen in Maynard cancelled the scheduled town meeting on April 6th, explaining that "significant, recent changes have been made to the proposal and thus [we]feel time is needed for various committees to complete the required tasks as well as give the community time for consideration." On the town's website, the selectmen admit,"Both of these articles have been updated by the developer several times since the original warrant for the Special Town Meeting was filed. As with all Town Meeting articles, they can be amended even at the meeting."
Readers are urged to email the Chair of the Maynard Board of Selectmen, Dawn Capello, at: email@example.com with the following message:
"Dear Chairmwoman Capello,
It is critical that the Board of Selectmen come into Town Meeting on May 19th with a negative recommendation on Articles 1 and 2.
The Capital Group proposal is overpowering for the population base of Maynard. There is no way a small town the size of Maynard can support this much additional retail. The developer keeps changing its plan -- because they know that to get a two-thirds vote they need to pay more attention to the concerns that have been raised by everyone from local neighbors to the Conservation Commissioner and the Chairman of the Assessors.
Simply stated, 348,000 s.f of retail space is about the combined size of 6 football fields -- not counting the huge amount of parking lots that go with this space. You already have 7 Wal-Marts within 20 miles -- and the developer's promises of jobs and taxes are all self-serving, none independently verified.
Let's face it: this project is no Digital. The net jobs (after you subtract retail jobs lost elsewhere) are not industrial, or high-tech jobs. This 58 acre parcel is too valuable to become another mall -- or even mixed use. There are real costs associated with the project, like police, fire and schools. The impact of major traffic on residential values also needs an independent analysis.
This massive project is not ready for prime time. If The Capital Group wants you to believe they are listening, then have them underwrite the cost of an independent traffic study, and an independent economic impact study. You should also insist that any development agreement requires the property owner to demolish any retail building that sits empty for 12 consecutive months, so the taxpayers of Maynard to not get stuck with future demolition costs.
There are far too many unknowns and assumptions with this project that need answers. The only responsible course for the Selectmen is to recommend a NO vote on Articles 1 and 2.