is so much confusion and misinformation concerning the King Street
development ordinances now pending before the City Council, I would
like to recap the history and outline the intent of these measures
for folks who might be scratching their heads at this point.
me clarify that as long as we have Proposition 2 ˝ in place, we
need new development, which is the only allowable way for the
city to increase the base on which this proposition is tied. At
a time when our fixed expenses are skyrocketing, we need as much
help as we can get. To illustrate this dilemma, I would point
out that last year health care costs to the city rose over 10%
and it is expected that they will rise another 20% this coming
year. We recently had to lay off 12 school employees to stay within
our budget. We need new development.
this, I want to stress that there is growth and there is smart
years ago, there was some public concern over scuttlebutt that
the city was facing an invasion from several large scale retail
chains. Wal-Mart was planning to move into the old Caldor’s space;
Home Depot was eyeing a stretch of land that straddled Hatfield
and Northampton, and we kept hearing rumors that Borders Books,
Staples, Dress Barn and Pier One were all headed for the Hill
and Dale Mall.
legitimate reasons why some might welcome such businesses. Like
any new development, they raise the tax base. They also provide
low-cost shopping and create jobs. At the same time, they can
devastate locally-owned shops which cannot compete with the discounts
big boxes can offer. After a few years, the gains a city receives
from these chains often end up being a wash because they significantly
impact municipal services, intensify traffic problems and the
city loses the taxes and jobs that the smaller stores provided.
Also, locally owned businesses tend to bank locally, hire local
contractors, when possible restock from area vendors, advertise
in local papers and support local events. Large chains generally
the economic, social and political fall-out from such possibilities,
Councilors Bill Dwight, Alex Ghiselin and I quickly submitted
an ordinance calling for economic impact statements before such
large retail concerns could be approved.
Board rejected that ordinance, saying it was too vague and, along
with members of the Chamber of Commerce and the Gazette editorial
board, blasted us for " trying to protect locally owned businesses",
as if this were something shameful. For the record, it was not
local businesses we were trying to protect, but rather the integrity
of our city.
to withdraw that ordinance, acknowledging that it had been a knee-jerk
reaction to a situation. We knew that by doing so, we were leaving
King Street vulnerable to the very development that worried us.
As expected, and with lightning speed, a local lawyer (and one
of our biggest critics) filed for a subdivision on behalf of (rumors
told us) Staples, Borders Books, Pier I, and Dress Barn, in order
to lock in the existing, less-restrictive zoning. Still, we felt
that if we were going to put forth such important zoning changes,
it was imperative that we do so correctly.
that summer, we met weekly for three or four months. We invited
people to participate whom we knew disagreed with our goals. We
wanted to understand what they found disagreeable and we hoped
to fashion measures that would appeal to or at least not offend,
a broad range of interests.
books on sprawl, we studied how other communities dealt with such
problems (and what happened if they did not) and we exchanged
ideas with anyone who would talk with us. Eventually we held a
public hearing at which three outside experts spoke. One of those
experts told us to keep big box development out at all cost if
we wanted to preserve the charm of our small town. The other two
suggested that it was much better to stress what we wanted rather
than what we didn’t want.
result of this hearing, we altered our approach to this issue.
We studied Vision 20/20, The Mayor’s Task Force, and later the
results of the Transportation Plan hearings and we noticed that
what the citizens consistently stressed was their desire for an
attractive, pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly city. And so that’s
what we decided to push for.
our belief that Big Box development is not the most desirable
form of commerce for our city for several reasons:
boost traffic congestion since they draw from surrounding communities
for both customers and employees
make heavy demands municipal services;
devastate smaller, regionally-owned business with whom they compete.
they hire numerous employees, they are, for the most part, low-paid
jobs with few benefits and no job security and often this
increase is offset by the jobs lost when locally-owned businesses
retail companies saturate areas until they are simply competing
with themselves. Consider a Staples in West Springfield, Northampton
and Hadley. Once the competition vanishes, these companies often
start closing their own stores. When this happens, communities
are left with a huge, empty, ugly building which is virtually
impossible to refill with anything other than another enormous
traditionally these concerns construct huge, one-story structures
with parking in front and on the sides, they dis-courage pedestrian
and bicycle traffic since it is necessary to negotiate a busy
parking lot to gain admittance to the store.
of these 10 ordinances in no way prohibit large retail development
on King Street. Rather, they set in place incentives which encourage
these establishments to develop in such a way as to alleviate
some of their negative impacts. We are proposing that:
- If a large
retail establishment agrees to build a two-or more- story building
close to the sidewalk, with parking on the sides and in the
back, they will receive the following incentives:
will only be required to reserve 5% of the development for
open spaces, as opposed to the 25% currently required.
will only be required to obtain a Site Plan Review as opposed
to the additional, more expensive, more time-consuming, Special
Permit now required.
will receive a 20% reduction in parking requirements for shared
- If a large
retail establishment prefers to build a one story building,
but agrees to have parking on the side and the rear only, they
will be required to conform to the following:
a one time payment in lieu of for retail mitigation. This
money will be placed in an account and used to support small
business and other economic development activities. It will
be expended at the discretion of the Mayor, with the approval
of the City Council.
standard highway business zoning density/dimensions (already
15% open space (25% is now required)
a Special Permit (already required)
Large retail design standards (already required) and
be required to remove abandoned large retail boxes
- If the
large scale retail establishment prefers to build a one-story
building with parking in the front, it will be required to meet
all of the above requirements, except that it will have to set
aside 30% for open space rather than the 25% now required.
King Street retail businesses will receive a one time exemption
from these requirements. For example, if the Coffee Gallery wanted
to expand, it could do so with no penalties as long as it remained
the Coffee Gallery. If it suddenly became KB Toys, it would have
to comply with the appropriate above-mentioned requirement.
ordinance establishes a mandatory set back of 50 feet. This would
allow one row of parking, a sidewalk and greenspace in front of
the business, but would simply prohibit the vast parking lot in
front of the store.
this, nine of these 10 ordinances restrict no retail business
from entering the city. They merely state that if these chains
want to come in, they need to conform to what the citizens have
repeatedly said they would like to see. All a company has to do,
regardless of its size, is build up to the street, add a second
story (which can be rented out as office space or apartments)
and put the parking in the rear and on the sides. Not only are
such businesses not penalized, the are rewarded. They have less
red tape to deal with than they now do and the city will reduce
the amount of open space they are currently required to preserve.
Only if a business insists on ignoring the expressed wishes of
the citizens, do they run into any penalties. I honestly do not
see this as such a profound deterrence to a company who wants
to do business here. This is our town, not theirs.
ordinance, which stands alone and which is an alternative to the
other nine states that no retail development over 20,000 square
feet will be permitted on King Street.
I am personally not all that happy with these ordinances because
if someone does comply, they are not required to pay any mitigating
fees to the city for the increased services they will require
or for the political fall out that will occur when local stores
is a compromise on our part. A huge compromise, in fact.
has very little developable space. I do not believe that we want
to squander the majority of that space on any kind of retail.
I would like to see King Street development include more high
tech, higher paying jobs than retail markets can produce. I should
point out that the Mayor and city officials are slaving away to
make this a reality.
would it be if, after all these efforts on the part of the Mayor
and the Economic Development Coordinator, King Street morphed
into just another, same as all the other, strip mall for large-scale,
low-paying retail stores. Of course, everyone says, those more
desirable businesses can locate at the State Hospital. We hope
that is true. However, the State Hospital has been processing
for decades. Telling a business they can become operational there
in a year or two is like going to the East Side Grill and being
told you’ll be seated in an hour. One exciting outcome of these
ordinances – the provision of a second story – could provide the
much needed, less expensive space for promising start up businesses.
a plethora of low paying jobs in this community. Why on earth
do we want to use up all of our land to continue this trend when
reasonable alternatives exist?
Bleiman is a Northampton City Councilor from Ward 4