Big Box Battle

Greenfield activists fight to save their downtown, and wetlands along the French King Highway, from the effects of sprawl.

In Greenfield, a group of citizens is fighting plans by a Connecticut developer to build a massive store and parking lot on a piece of land that's home to several wetlands.

The developer has not said which company would rent the store, which would be bigger than the Wal-Mart stores in Northampton and Hadley. But it has proposed a 160,000-square-foot store that would include a garden center. City officials earlier this summer said the tenant would likely be Wal-Mart, Target, or another national corporation.

The proposed location on French King Highway near Route 2 is too far from downtown for most people to walk. There are no sidewalks on the road near the site. "This is a terrible place for a store like this," said Patricia Marcus, one of the Greenfield activists. "That means thousands of additional car trips." That, in turn, would mean more global warming-causing pollution and traffic jams.

At its Sept. 23 meeting, the Greenfield Conservation Commission seemed poised to approve the development proposal by Ceruzzi Corp. of Fairfield, Conn. The final vote is expected at the commission's Nov. 10 meeting. If that vote goes the developer's way, the only remaining hurdle would be the Greenfield Zoning Board of Appeals.

Mayor Christine Forgey has appointed people who favor the big box plan to the commission and the zoning board, Marcus said. Forgey did not respond to a request for an interview about Ceruzzi Corp.'s proposal.

The locally owned Wilson's Department Store on Main Street in downtown Greenfield opened in 1882. "If the new big box store opens on French King Highway, Wilson's will probably go out of business," said Al Norman, who, with Marcus and other activists, has been attending public hearings and distributing information about the big box proposal to neighbors.

Other local businesses might suffer if a large retail operation occupies the French King Highway property. Arkansas-based Wal-Mart and other big-box retail companies take money out of the communities where they operate.

Many of Wal-Mart's workers make so little money that they qualify for taxpayer-funded food stamps, healthcare and other programs. The company has spared no expense in fighting its workers efforts to form a union.

And Wal-Mart has also undermined American jobs by contributing to the decline of the manufacturing base here. As of 2005, it was buying more products from China than any other company. The average Chinese factory worker was paid about 40 cents an hour that year.

Wetlands like the ones on the site of the proposed Greenfield mega-store and 580-vehicle parking lot are as full of life as rain forests and coral reefs. Nearly half the nation's threatened and endangered species rely on wetlands for their survival, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Wetlands reduce the negative effects of flooding and help keep drinking water pure. Ceruzzi Corp.'s plan for Greenfield makes an effort to avoid the wetlands on the site, but the wetlands would still be damaged, Marcus said.

Norman runs a website, www.sprawl-busters.com, that provides information on the strategies used by hundreds of citizens' groups around the nation that have succeeded in stopping proposed Wal-Marts, Home Depots and other big box stores. "We can save our downtown," he said.

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Map by the Trust for Public Land, 2006. This map shows the Pioneer Valley section of the Connecticut River watershed. Land outside the watershed is light green, meaning streams in that area do not flow to the Connecticut River. Dark green land has been protected from development. Red land is vulnerable to being paved with McMansions, Wal-Marts, parking lots, roads, and ChemLawns. Click on the map to enlarge.

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