|By G. Michael Dobbs|
Did I say I was in favor of the proposed shopping center in Agwam in my last column? I haven't voiced an opinion on it. I only shared an opinion that was told to me by an Agawam resident.
I wanted to get feedback on the topic, and boy, did I. Unfortunately too many people seemed to think that what I wrote was an endorsement of the project.
I received quite a number of e-mails and the overwhelming majority expressed opposition to the development. In terms of this very unscientific poll, most of the respondees don't want the shopping center built.
The irony is that most of the people who sent me a note did not include their telephone number for confirmation. I couldn't print their remarks. That is essential, folks.
Here's a sampling of the responses:
Mr. Dobbs, this e-mail is being sent to you, the editor of The Reminder, so that you are aware there are a great number of Agawam residents who are indeed against the proposed shopping plaza on Tennis Road, including myself and my family. It would make life in Agawam change completely as our small home town would turn into a busy city. Traffic would be a nightmare and crime in our beautiful town would increase dramatically. It is not difficult to travel to our neighboring towns to shop including West Springfield, Westfield, Springfield, Holyoke and Enfield. Do we really need more shopping access? I hope that our residents decide to vote against this project because I live here in Agawam because I like it the way it is and I hope that they do too.
Thank you for listening,
My name is Fay Borgatti and I am the chair person for Citizens in Favor of Retail. Our group has a large data base of supporters with more people joining us all the time. Our group started out as a grass roots effort but has grown fast. Our goal is to bring more retail shopping opportunities to Agawam.
Presently, there is a proposal to bring a retail shopping center to properties off of Tennis Road, right next to Route 57. It is anticipated that the retail shopping center would include such stores as Lowes, Target, Barnes & Noble, Panera Bread, etc.
The proposed shopping center is an important issue for the entire Agawam community -- not just a few people. For this reason, our group braved hot humid weather and thunder storms in order to get enough petition signatures to put the question on the November 8th ballot. Although conditions were sometimes difficult, we were able to successfully and overwhelmingly secured enough signatures to put two questions on the November 8 ballot that would allow development of this proposed retail shopping center at that location.
The overall response from the Agawam public while we collected these signatures fortified our belief that the Agawam community as a whole wants this retail shopping center. They want the convenience of shopping in town, they want to support their city, and they want the tax revenue to help the schools and emergency offices. They believe in the chamber of commerce vote to back the project because they know it will be good for Agawam. They understand that because exit and entrance ramps will be constructed off of Route 57 by the Developer at the Developer's cost, traffic will be alleviated (no more U-turns on Mill Street).
We have maintained a positive outlook and kept focusing on our goal to let the Agawam voters decide the issue. The city clerk certified the signatures on September 2, 2005, and the city solicitor rendered his decision that the questions were legal and in compliance with the city charter and Massachusetts law. Despite this, you may have heard that a few Agawam citizens and certain councilors are attempting to keep the questions off the ballot. You may wonder why these few people are trying so hard to stop the Agawam Community from voting on these questions. These are questions that will affect your lives and the lives of our entire community for years to come, yet they are trying to take this decision away from you. They are trying to keep the citizens of Agawam from having their say at the polls, they are trying to deny the democratic process. We won't let that happen.
Don't let a few people try to steal your right to vote away. Everyone should have the right to vote on this, whether you are for or against this retail shopping project. Let your voice be heard!
As a lifelong resident of Agawam, I feel that I must appeal to the members of my community to resolve the current debate over the proposed shopping center in Agawam. While it may appear to divide us as a community, we have the opportunity to stand together and decide what is in the best interests of the town. Whether you are currently for or against the idea of a community shopping center, you should agree that what is best for Agawam's future is the goal we all share.
This much we know for certain; the owner of the parcel of land that abuts Route 57 is interested in developing the property. It is currently private property that is being abused by trespassers for illegal dumping and racing motorized vehicles. The proposed development of this property could benefit Agawam through increased tax revenue from businesses, or it may be developed in other ways for which it is currently zoned.
What we should not engage in during the coming few months is a campaign of misinformation and scare tactics to sway the minds of Agawam residents as the proposal moves to a referendum. The town's culture and quality of life remains in its citizens and the way that they raise their families, care about their neighbors, and take pride in their homes. It is not shown in trying to scare or intimidate neighbors and friends into opposing the growth of retail in town. Nor should it be in our nature to display the hypocrisy evident in railing for preserving open space while we have silently witnessed the fields and farms of Agawam being turned into condominiums and housing developments. The traffic problems we experience now are not caused by businesses inside or outside of town. They are the result of a swelling population traveling on roads designed for a smaller town many years ago. We are now residents of a city known as a town that wants to be able to maintain its schools, roads, and parks but is averse to having their property taxes raised to do so.
The citizens of Agawam should decide whether we want to shop in our own community instead of in surrounding cities and towns. We should be able to decide for ourselves whether we want to pay extra for gas to travel the one-lane roads out of town to Suffield, Westfield, and West Springfield. We can and should remember that if the size of our population warranted the attention of one retail developer, it is certain that others wait in the wings to sell items in our town if this proposal fails. We should take the opportunity to get this right the first time. We would regret allowing our town to develop retail recklessly when we need it and want it on our terms.
Dear Mr. Dobbs;
We wanted to let you know of our opposition to the Tennis Road development. We, as very close neighbors of the site, are adamantly opposed to the project for a variety of reasons. First and foremost is the traffic nightmare a project of this size will create. The high school and library are located a stones throw from Tennis Road and there is already congestion from school busses etc on Mill street. If there were a fire or medical emergency at the school someone could die waiting for emergency vehicles to get through.
There has been no firm commitment by the state to build on/off ramps from Rt.57 to the site, leaving 100,000+ cars a week to clog our local roads. The wear on the infrastructure alone would cost a ton in road repairs every year. How do pedestrians, cyclist and students walking the road survive against the person in a hurry to get home from the mall and talking on their cell phone. It's a disaster waiting to happen.
Noise and light are another big concern. Eighteen wheelers at all hour of the night, back-up alarms and other noise associated with the unloading of trucks will penetrate the night air as up-lighting from the parking lots wipe the stars from the sky.
Any semblance of country living will be gone with this 560,000 sq. foot monster. This is bigger than the entire Riverdale Shops with Costco and Home Depot included(479,000sq.ft.). Riverdale Rd. is six lanes at the main intersections to the shops and look at the congestion, especially during the holidays. Throw in a little snow to slow things down some more and then put the whole mess on Tennis Road. Can anyone really believe this won't be a nightmare?
I could go on about crime (check West Spfld. P.D. numbers for incidents at the Riverdale Shops) impact on existing businesses, higher insurance rates, etc. but I'm sure you get the idea. This is a project completely unsuitable for the proposed area for many reasons and I hope it does not go through. Quality of life is far more important than having to drive 10-12 min. to shop. Once the land is gone it is gone forever and no amount of after-thought or regret can bring it back.
Thank you for your interest in this matter and reading this letter.
Skip Hochreich, Juli Provost
These are my opinions alone. Send your comments to email@example.com or to 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA, 01028.