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Walmart to present its case at open house

Date: 8/2/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

HOLYOKE – Despite opposition from neighbors, labor unions and now Mayor Alex Morse, a spokesman for Walmart said the giant retailer would continue its efforts to build a Supercenter store on Whiting Farms Road.

William Wertz, director of Communications-East of Public Affairs and Government Relations, told Reminder Publications, “Our new Supercenter in Holyoke will mean 300 new jobs and new affordable shopping options for the community. We believe it will have broad community support, and we are hearing from new backers almost every day.

“Mayor Morse himself was quoted just last month saying that whether Walmart or someone else builds on the site, ‘It’s important to remember that it's a vacant piece of land that’s zoned commercial. It’s an opportunity for Holyoke to get jobs and tax revenue.’”

Wertz concluded, “It is always our practice to work with the city and residents of the community to resolve any issues or questions about our project that may arise. In fact, we plan an open house on Aug. 12 to give those who are interested residents an opportunity to learn more about our plans. Our new store will include a full line of groceries, including fresh produce, frozen foods, meat and dairy products, along with a wide range of general merchandise. There are Walmarts in 47 Massachusetts communities, including Westfield, Chicopee and Springfield, and the positive impact we have had in those communities is easy to see.”

Wertz said the open house would be from 6 to 8 p.m. at The Log Cabin.

On July 25, Holyoke residents and their supporters met at the Maurice Donahue School for an announcement by Morse that he was joining the opposition to the development.

Morse said that after much consideration he now believes a Walmart Supercenter “would hurt the residential neighborhood.” It would also threaten the proposed Big Y market that has been discussed for the Atlas-Copco property.

He said Holyoke is seeing forward movement in a “new economy” and “after all the progress we’ve made we can’t go backwards.”

About 100 people cheered Morse’s remarks.

Morse explained the purchase and sale agreement has been signed and the developer has until Sept. 19 to back out of the deal with Holyoke Gas & Electric that owns the property.

He admitted that with a parcel zoned for a business such as a Walmart Supercenter there isn’t a lot he could do as mayor to stop the development. Morse added, though, the Planning Board could be very restrictive in writing the special permits Walmart requires for a drive-through pharmacy and tire and automotive center. The City Council could stop the development by not approving those permits.

Terri Laramee, of the Stop Walmart in Holyoke coalition, predicted the supercenter store would lower property values in the area, increase traffic density on an already business road, increase light pollution and create air pollution from emissions from the greater number of cars. She also believed Holyoke police would be busier with shoplifting calls to the store.

Jason Garand, the business manager of Local 108 of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters, said the construction of the supercenter would use “exploited immigrants.”

“Walmart, Holyoke isn’t for you,” he added.