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Would you want big box store near you?

By G. Michael Dobbs
Managing Editor

Hey urban dwellers and you suburban ones, too what business is the worst to live next to or near?
large shopping mall
standalone chain restaurant
local bar/restaurant
Well, the folks who live on and off Whiting Farms Road in Holyoke have all three of these features, among others. And now they may have to contend with the traffic a Lowe's Home Improvement Center would bring.
Many years ago that area of Holyoke was considered almost "country." There was even one resident at a special meeting with the neighborhood and developers last week who said he moved his family here to be in the country.
Over the years, though, there has been an expansion of both business and housing in the area, one of the last parts of the city that wasn't already developed.
I know you've driven on at least part of the thoroughfare if you've gone to Barnes & Noble, the Holyoke Mall or Cracker Barrel Restaurant. A nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there, right?
Now, developers have identified a piece of city-owned property that is perfect for a Lowe's and they are seeking a zone change in order to move forward.
The City Council will ultimately have the responsibility of deciding if the developers get the change. The process will involve recommendations from the Planning Board, input from citizens and a series of votes.
I hate to be a cynic, but I've sat through too many meetings in which anguished residents plead to maintain their neighborhood against unwanted development, only to see their efforts result in failure.
It's not the citizens' fault and it's not the fault of the governing body. The blame lies with the persuasive power of cold hard cash.
Right now, that land is earning the city nothing. With a Lowe's on it, it will bring in some much needed dough. It will also bring in jobs and the City Council is sure to attach some provisions to the agreement in which the developers will have to pay in part for infrastructure improvements.
Honestly, do you think those councilors are going to turn that down in this day and age? No, they won't.
The only way it can be stopped is if some of the residents can find a legal impediment to the proposal a reason that potential income cannot overwhelm.
One of the developers made a comment at the meeting with the word "progress" in it. He didn't complete his thought, though, in the face of a cafeteria full of angry people. For these folks, "progress" isn't defined by another big box store in their backyard.
***
I was in White River Junction, Vt., last week as a guest lecturer at the Center for Cartoon Studies (CCS) and there was plenty of evidence of how the arts and education are powerful economic development tools.
White River Junction isn't very big and its glory days as a transportation hub for rail and river are far behind it. Throughout the town, though, artists and entrepreneurs have taken over buildings that had been inactive and are using them to create a new kind of community.
CCS is one of these new enterprises and it has attracted students from all over the country as well as a lot of media interest and support from people such as Garry Trudeau, the creator of "Doonesbury."
There is still plenty of room for improvement in White River Junction as there is here, but it makes me proud of local folks such as Charles Brush in Indian Orchard and John Aubin in Holyoke who have taken similar routes in finding new uses for old buildings.
***
Shameless plug time: I will be signing my book on Springfield history at the Barnes & Noble in Holyoke on Oct. 4 from 10 a.m. until noon. Please come by and say hello. Oh, and buy a book.
I will also be taking part in my friend Mino Gilberti's next wine dinner on Oct. 13 at his Buon Appetito restaurant in Westfield. Each couple will receive a copy of my Springfield book as part of the dinner package and I'll be on hand if you want the book inscribed. Call Mino for reservations at 568-0002.
This column represents the opinions of its author. Send your comments to mdobbs@thereminder.com or to 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, Mass. 01028.


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