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Residents protest addition of new Lowe's in Holyoke

Date: 9/30/2008

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

HOLYOKE After two unofficial informational meetings with residents, developers of a new Lowe's Home Improvement Center on Whiting Farms Road are expected to file an application for a zone change on Oct. 7, according to Ward 5 Aldermen John Brunelle, beginning the process that, if approved, could bring a new big box store in two and a half or three years.

About 100 Whiting Farms Road residents turned out Wednesday night at the Donahue School for a second informal meeting with the developers. Brunelle said that he wanted to hear what the residents had to say and have the developers listen to the residents.

What the developers heard was a chorus of "not in my backyard." Primarily residents expressed concerns about traffic. When asked how much the developers anticipate the new store would increase the number of cars on the street, the answer was between 25 and 35 percent.

Traffic studies show that between 12,000 and 13,000 cars now travel Whiting Farms Road every day.

One resident of Jean Drive expressed a belief that with the new store he will be sitting in his car a total of 24 days a year trying to turn out onto the street.

Other residents asked about the need for another Lowe's in the area and a possible negative impact on existing businesses.

Jay Fisher of Conover Development presented the proposal to the residents that would take a plot of unused city-owned property currently zoned industrial and turn it into a Lowe's with two possible out buildings that would be leased to other businesses. Fisher said it was too early to discuss which companies would be those other tenants.

Rob Jess, a site manager for Lowe's, said the company is "very meticulous about selecting a site."

He added the company is "very comfortable" the site will be good for both the company and the neighborhood.

When asked about truck traffic, Jess said he would anticipate there being between 12 to 15 deliveries a day, but those vehicles wouldn't be all 18-wheelers. Instead the bulk of them would be UPS and Federal Express delivery vans.

Jess added there are other Lowe's situated in residential areas and he cited the Springfield location as well as ones in Leominster and Dandridge.

Fisher said there have been studies that indicate owning a home near a big box store has "little or no effect" on home values.

The anticipated store hours are from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Sunday hours vary from store to store, Jess said.

"Brunelle told Reminder Publications there is no doubt in his mind the new store would bring additional traffic to the already busy street, but the city would be in the position to "force" the developers to help underwrite infrastructure improvements.

He explained that after the filing of the zone change, the City Council Ordinance Committee, of which he is the chair, would meet at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 28 at the school to conduct an official meeting with public input. Once the public hearing closes, the Planning Board will have 21 days in which to make a recommendation. Once hearing the recommendation, the Ordinance Committee will take a vote to determine its recommendation to the full Council, which would then approve or reject the change.

Brunelle said the full process would take until December or January to reach its conclusion.