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Planning Board asked for a pre-application meeting for Walmart

Date: 8/30/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

HOLYOKE – The organization against the construction of a Walmart on Whiting Farms Road has released a letter it has sent to John Kelley, chair of the city’s Planning Board dated Aug. 27.

The letter contains 25 points the residents wishes the Planning Board to consider before the world’s largest retailer submits its plan for the property.

Members of the anti-Walmart group are encouraging citizens in Holyoke to write the Planning Board urging a pre-application meeting.

According to an email sent to members of the group, Walmart officials are expected to file their plan for the new store sometime after Labor Day. It must do so by Sept. 19 in order to conclude the purchase of the property.

The letter reads, “Holyoke First, which includes homeowners who reside in the Whiting Farms Road area, expect that a New York state based developer will soon be submitting plans for a very large big box Walmart retail store on Whiting Farms Road.

“Based on our observations of this plan at Walmart’s open house recently, and site plans revealed at this meeting for the public, we believe this proposal is wholly incompatible with many provisions of the city’s zoning ordinance and is inharmonious with the abutting and nearby residential zones.

“Before this project is submitted, we urge the Planning Board to consider our comments below and to protect our properties by raising these concerns and suggestions with the developer by holding a preapplication meeting, as called for in Section 10.1.4 of the Holyoke Zoning Ordinance, and to make that meeting open to the public, including affected abutters.

“Here are some of the concerns and suggestions we offer to the Planning Board:

“1. The size of this Walmart makes it a ‘major site plan review,’ with the goal of ensuring that this development ‘reasonably protects visual and environmental qualities of the site and its immediate surroundings.’

“2. The renderings of the store we saw at Walmart’s open house were something more suitable for a highway roadside: a big rectangle with very few windows, long, flat facades, and absolutely no character. It is a ‘dead’ piece of architecture.

“3. There should be a pre-application meeting with the developer, where the city makes it clear from the very beginning that a 160,000 square foot store is way too big to be placed next to a residential zone.

“4. A major site plan in Holyoke is anything over 5,000 square feet. This Walmart building alone is 32 times bigger than that, not even counting the parking lot, which will be three times larger than the store.

“5. Landscaping Plan: The Holyoke zoning regulations require that all land uses have suitable boundaries and buffers between uses. This is not possible when land uses are incompatible. There is no way to buffer nearby homes from the noise and artificial light from this big box store.

“6. The Planning Board is required to offer property owners protection against diminution of

August 27, 2013 property values due to adjacent non-residential uses.

“7. You can’t adequately screen a project of this scale with vegetation, berms, plantings, or fencing. None of those things will work next to a residential neighborhood.

“8. Do not let Walmart get away with the typical plan of a few trees along the borders of the property. They need to dramatically reduce the size of this store and put the parking behind the store.

“9. The Planning Board should ask the developer to redesign a village retail approach that creates a streetscape that has neighborhood scale.

“10. Design Standards: This development must be “integrated into the existing terrain and surrounding landscape” and be designed “to protect abutting properties” by minimizing tree and vegetation removal and grade changes; maximum retention of open space; and “screen objectionable features from neighboring properties.” One huge stand-alone store does not meet these design standards.

“11. Development Impact Statement: The planning board should require the developer to underwrite the cost of an independent ‘economic benefits and liabilities’ statement, performed by a contractor selected by the city, from a list of applicants who have not worked for Walmart within the past five years. This study must look at the demands that will be placed on city services, such as police and fire, and infrastructure costs.

“12. The economic impact study needs to estimate how many jobs at existing retailers will be adversely impacted by this store, including other malls like the Kmart Plaza, and area grocery stores within a radius of at least 10 miles.

“13. The planning board should require the developer to underwrite the cost of an independent traffic study, from a list of traffic engineering firms to be chosen by the city.

“14. At least 50 percent of the sales at this store will be groceries, so the land use code used for this project should be for a free-standing grocery store, because this is not really just a big box discount store. Car trips will be higher than a discount store, because grocery shoppers come more frequently. Walmart will try to avoid using a land use code for a grocery store, but that’s what this project really is.

“15. The traffic study needs to look at the intersection from a full range of feeder streets to Whiting Farms Road, including from Route 91.

“16. The traffic impact study also needs to include projects coming on line in the near future, like the hotel development at the corner of Whiting Farms Road.

“17. Walmart should be required to submit actual trip generation numbers from its other existing facilities and Western Massachusetts, not just car trip numbers from the ITE manual (The Manuel of Transportation Engineering Studies).

“18. This development should not be allowed to reduce the current level of service at any of the intersections that will be impacted by this project.

“19. Any traffic mitigation plans that affect surrounding neighborhoods should be vetted by the developer with neighbors of the project.

“20. The entrance to this project needs to discourage the routing of traffic to and through residential streets.

“21. The developer must show ‘consistency and compatibility’ with Holyoke’s existing Master Plan.

“22. The developer needs to show the impact of creating large impervious surfaces on groundwater levels and runoff, and potential flooding into adjacent neighborhoods including erosion.

“23. The developer should be required to update the city on the status of any submissions it has made, or plans to make, to the state’s Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) office. No local review should precede the MEPA review, so that the city can ensure that all MEPA requirements have been addressed by the developer.

“24. Lighting glare and spillover: The planning board should require the developer to underwrite the cost of an independent analysis of the lighting plan for this project.

“25. Any store(s) built on this site should conform to LEED standards and maximize low impact design standards.

“Holyoke First finds that many features of this project are incompatible with the surrounding neighborhoods and inharmonious with the standards found in the Holyoke zoning ordinance. The Planning Board has the right to disapprove of this project as submitted, based on its inappropriate scale. The board can insist that a modified proposal be submitted, one which is consistent and compatible with the Whiting Farms Road neighborhoods. The board has the right to add any conditions, modifications, and/or restrictions ‘as the Planning Board may deem necessary.’

“If significant changes to the proposed use of this land are not made to make it more harmonious with surrounding uses, it should be disapproved.”