Our Opinion: Independent study of Wal-Mart proposal
City Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo proposed an independent review last week (Eagle, December 31). The board of Downtown Inc. requested that the City Council insist on an independent study last year, but the Council rejected the request (Councilor Mazzeo supported it) on the grounds that it was premature because the developer had not requested permits. In December, the developer, Waterstone Retail Development of Needham, signed a purchase-and-sale agreement with the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority (PEDA) and Waterstone is likely to file applications for the project this month. The time is right for that independent study.
The developer asserts that the supercenter at the 16.1 acre "teens" parcel would bring between $200,000 and $500,000 in annual tax revenue to the city and add 100 employees to the current staff of 200 at the Walmart in Pittsfield's Berkshire Crossing. While the jobs and taxes are welcome, a study could examine the supercenter's impact upon other businesses in the city to determine the net economic effect of the new store on Pittsfield taxes and area employment. The study could assess the impact that the Berkshire Crossing Walmart has had upon city businesses.
The supercenter is planned as the first step in a larger project that would include medical offices, life sciences firms and light manufacturing. These are potentially significant selling points and an independent study could evaluate this phase of the project, along with its impact on the viability of PEDA's plans for the remainder of the business park..
The original intent of the William Stanley Business Park was to serve as a base for manufacturers. The specifics of the proposal aside, the city must wrestle with the larger implications of surrendering 16 of its 52 acres to a retail project with only the potential of some unspecified light manufacturing.
PEDA Executive Director Corydon Thurston told The Eagle he believes Waterstone will include economic impact information in an upcoming filing and residents and officials look forward to seeing this information. However, there is no substitute for an independent study unburdened by vested interests.
The City Council can ask those seeking special permits to fund studies relevant to city decisions. The decision on the Walmart Supercenter is clearly a critical one, and we urge the City Council to approve Councilor Mazzeo's proposal for an independent study and to pursue funding from Waterstone for the study.
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