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Anti-Big Box Zoning Proposed In Easthampton, Massachusetts

Easthampton Proposes Building Size Limit To Exclude Big Box Retailers

In a move calculated to enhance the business climate for small to medium-size businesses, the City Council of Easthampton, Massachusetts is considering an ordinance to ban big-box retailers all over the city. Only the industrially zoned area would be excluded from the new ordinance, which limits buildings to a maximum of 50,000 square feet. The Ordinance Committee and Planning Board are considering the proposed ordinance, introduced by City Council President Joseph McCoy, acting on behalf of David Gardner and Daniel Hagan, Jr. The initial discussions among members of the Ordinance Committee took place at its November 25 and December 10 meetings, as posted in published agendas. No recommendation has yet been issued, according to chairman and District 4 councilor Salem Derby. The official debate before the Planning Commission has yet to be scheduled. McCoy said there would be plenty of opportunity for the public to weigh in on the proposed building size cap, particularly as the Planning Board conducts its evaluation. Public hearings will be held, he said.inside-warehouse-1114152-m[1]

Gardner formerly chaired the Zoning Board of Appeals and was also on the Planning Board. He is a member of Easthampton’s Economic Development and Industrial Commission (EDIC). Hagan, an attorney,  was a leader in 2010 in petitioning to limit the size of  the highway business district on Route 10, hoping to use the limitation to thwart the development of big-box stores, a plan rejected by the Planning Board.

Proposal Is Called Compatible With Existing Business Buildings’ Scale, Encouraging For Business Growth

Gardner’s position is that the proposal to limit the size of retail buildings is compatible with goals and future planning set forth in the City of Easthampton Master Plan. The proposed limitations on building size would encourage the growth of small businesses and discourage development that’s out of scale with other elements of a neighborhood or commercial district. The 50,000-square-foot limit would not exclude smaller-scale retailers and is not unreasonable. Gardner offered examples of existing commercial buildings that would be in compliance with the new limits, such as the Easthampton Savings Bank at 28,700 square feet, the Municipal Building at 26,000 square feet, and Valley Medical at 31,000 square feet.

The overarching goal would be to exclude mega-stores such as giant retailer Wal-Mart and make Easthampton more business-friendly to slightly smaller-scale retailers, such  as lumberyards, groceries, and hardware stores. These types of businesses would be severely affected if a mega-competitor like Wal-Mart appeared on the scene. Wal-Mart normally builds one of three different store styles and sizes — a 182,000 square-foot “Supercenter,” a 106,000 square-foot “Discount Store,” and a 38,000 square-foot “Neighborhood Market,” according to the company’s corporate website. Only the “Neighborhood Market” would be possible in Easthampton under the proposed ordinance.

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