Easthampton, MA City Council Votes To Cap The Size Of Retail Stores
The Western Massachusetts community of Easthampton has take a big step towards stopping big box stores. The City Council on June 17th voted unanimously to cap the size of retail stores at 50,000 s.f., which would a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market to open, but not a superstore.
The new zoning ordinance amendment reportedly shrinks the lot size required to build a commercial building from 5 to 3 acres, and makes it easier to build gasoline stations. The big box limit was originally proposed in February. The concept drew immediate opposition from some developers, who argued that the 50,000 s.f. cap was too low. But the city has a Stop & Shop proposal that falls around 45,000 s.f., as will a number of Wal-Mart models and many discount stores like Dollar General or Family Dollar.
But city officials said the cap on size will ensure that the city’s economic focal point will remain its downtown and will prevent the city from having to deal with large empty retail buildings. City voters said they wanted a vibrant downtown in the community’s Master Planning process. Proponents of the size cap argued that a Master Plan Survey from 2007 showed "that most residents do not favor having big box stores ... major retail shopping centers, or new industrial parks,” and that the city "needs to determine where Easthampton residents will go, or what the residents will create within the City (i.e., local coop), for the purchase of basic retail items."
Over the course of months, the City’s planner recommended that properties within the Mixed Use / Mill Industrial zoning district should be exempt from the proposed cap, and that the size limit no apply to housing or to warehouse space. According to MassLive news, the City’s Planner said the size cap should be limited to business districts, because the only commercial uses allowed in residential zones are antique stores and bed and breakfasts. "I doubt we would see a fifty-thousand-square-foot bed and breakfast," the planner was quoted as saying.
The Planner wanted no specific size limitation upon Planned Business Developments or Planned Unit Developments, but large scale retail are often part of such projects, unless they are solely for housing units. So-called “mixed use” projects usually have retail, and are often dominated by retail uses. The original proposal as drafted would have imposed a size cap upon nearly all development in all zoning districts.
The zoning proposal was originally written by Southampton lawyer Daniel Hagan, Jr. and former Planning Board member David Gardner, who have fought big box projects for years. City Council President Joseph McCoy introduced the amendment to the Council last October, so the vote this week ended a 9 month review by local boards and officials.
What you can do: On Easthampton’s website it says the community “is a model small city of the 21st century. It retains its mill town soul, while fostering innovation. Community members treasure the abundant resources, dynamic downtown, and vibrant neighborhoods. By adapting, evolving, and making tough choices, Easthampton is sustainable, inclusive, balanced, and a great place to live.”
Readers are urged to email Easthampton Mayor Karen Cadieux at email@example.com with the following message:
“Dear Mayor Cadieux,
It looks like City Officials had more sense of purpose than you did on this big box cap. You expressed to the media that you would be wary of any measure which would block economic development during a time when the city needs to expand its tax base.
Wal-Mart is not a form of economic development---it’s a form of economic displacement. Ever wonder where Caldors, Ames, Bradlees and Rich’s went?
The big box cap is the best zoning change that has come to Easthampton since your ordinance was written. Many towns across the country have written similar limits. East Longmeadow has had one for years. It levels the playing field, and prevents a few big national chain stores from dominating the retail scene, and leaving the downtown just a collection of marginal boutiques.
Congratulations Mayor. Your City Council has shown you a way to keep the “dynamic downtown” that local residents value so highly.