Some say Walmart proposal not so smart


Related | Walmart Supercenter: Filling a void or a sellout?

LENOX — Charles Flint says he wasn't serious when he called for a boycott of The Berkshire Eagle on Facebook.

But his comments in opposition to an Eagle columnist's mostly favorable opinion of a proposal to construct a 190,000-square-foot building to house a Walmart Supercenter at the William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires on social media have certainly attracted attention.

As of Wednesday, Flint's post had received 106 likes from Facebook readers, 62 comments and five shares.

"That was just an attention getter," Flint said referring to his call for a boycott of The Eagle. "It worked."

The number of responses to Flint's post illustrates that Waterstone Retail Development's $30 million proposal — the developer's third pitch for the same site with the same anchor tenant during the last five years — is still viewed with skepticism by many people in the community. The developers want to build on a 16.5 acre plot known as "the teens" parcel that is the 52-acre Stanley Business Park's largest building lot.

Known as Woodlawn Crossing, the Walmart Supercenter has been billed as the first step in a proposal that would bring in other development to areas near the business park.

Some of the animosity is directed specifically at Walmart, the country's largest private sector employer, which has had a store in Pittsfield since 1995, and opened its first county outlet in North Adams in 1993.

If the supercenter is approved, Walmart would move its current Pittsfield store from the Berkshire Crossing Shopping Center on Hubbard Avenue to the Stanley Business Park, which is located in the Morningside area, one of Pittsfield's poorest neighborhoods.

Other concerns regard the project itself, especially the use of the building site, a 16.5 acre parcel known as the teens that is the biggest of the Stanley Business Park's nine building lots.

Retail was not one of the uses originally specified for the 52-acre business park, which consists of industrially zoned land that was formerly part of General Electric's power transformer facility.

Although the teens site needs extensive environmental remediation before it can be built on — Waterstone has estimated the cost at $12 million, almost half of the total project's price tag — many people believe the parcel's building lots should be reserved strictly for industrial use.

There's also the argument that the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, the quasi-public agency charged with the business park's development, hasn't looked hard enough to find an appropriate tenant for the teens parcel.

"It's a sellout," said Flint, a small-business owner who owns an antique store in Lenox, "because Walmart already exists (in Pittsfield) and we don't need a bigger one. It's not always about money. It's about common sense; it's about integrity."

Putting a Walmart Supercenter at the Stanley Business Park is "lazy," he said.

"If I've got a piece of property and I can't sell it and someone comes along with money and dangles it in front of me I'm not going to say this has nothing to do with my rules," he said.

"If you have rules stick to them," Flint said. "Don't take the first thing that comes along."

City Councilor Peter White, who grew up in the Morningside neighborhood, said most of the negative comments about the project that he has received have been posted on his Facebook wall.

"Mostly, it's been about Walmart," White said, "how Walmart destroys small business and that the site should be just for manufacturing."

Although Waterstone has agreed to pay to environmentally remediate the teens parcel, White said the comments he has received indicate that the city "has taken the easy way out. That GE should be responsible for their cleanup."

Under the consent decree that required GE to clean up PCB contamination in Pittsfield, the corporate giant was required to decontaminate the entire business park of toxic substances to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's standards, before turning ownership of the land over to the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, the quasi-public agency charged with the business park's development.

By mutual agreement, GE left a series of concrete building foundations on the teens' parcel before that site was turned over to PEDA in 2012. Officials originally thought that leaving those foundations in place would make that parcel easier to build on. The teens site was the last parcel in the park to come under PEDA's control.

People are saying, "let's wait another 10 years," for a suitable tenant, White said.

"If there wasn't a super Walmart I think there would be a lot less controversy about this," White said. "Walmart in general has a reputation and studies and studies and studies show it hurts other businesses. But we've been living with Walmart, what, for 22 (actually 21) years now?"

Flint said his opposition is to both Walmart and the proposal in general.

"It's a little bit of all of it," he said. "We already have a Walmart. We don't need a (Walmart Supercenter). What it means is that it's a bigger place that puts people out of business."

"It's a financial vacuum cleaner and it's going to suck the money out of the Berkshires and put it in the hands of people who already have enough," he added.

Flint believes officials should have looked harder for another tenant.

"I'm not convinced that they've exhausted their options," he said. "If the property has to be cleaned up, why can't GE do it?

"I'm really concerned with the small businesses," he said. "I think someone has to stand up and protect them. We've lost enough already."

Michael Bloomberg, of Pittsfield, who is challenging state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier for the seat in the 3rd Berkshire District in the Democratic Primary, also is against the project.

"I am against this proposal because I believe it provides yet another hurdle toward smart, sustainable growth for this city," he said in a statement. "I think that the city has been handed a sales pitch from the developers and that's what has been dominating the conversation.

"I think that when examined by community and economic development experts, it will be determined to not provide benefit to the city and I am looking forward to hearing them say so," he said.

Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413-496-6224.


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