More than 200 Watertown residents worried about the possibility of a Walmart coming to town filled the Watertown Free Public Library’s meeting room Monday night.
Fearing that a proposed 92,000 square foot store would bring heavy traffic, pollution and put local stores out of business, resident group Sustainable Watertown hosted the event.
Everyone who spoke at the meeting opposed a Walmart being built on land off of Arsenal and Irving streets.
Rena Baskin, a member of Sustainable Watertown, lives near the proposed Walmart site, but she said everyone in town will be impacted.
“Watertown is only 4.2 miles in size. Something on one side of town affects all of us,” Baskin said.
Fear of Trafific
Baskin fears thousands of more cars being added to Watertown’s roads, as people drive from outside of town to get to Walmart.
“Watertown is known as Crossroads on the Charles,” Baskin said. “We could easily become known as Gridlock on the Charles.”
Customers are drawn from a 15-mile radius for most Walmarts, said Dave Sprogis, a member of the Otis Farms Neighborhood group, an area next to the proposed Walmart site, but one in Watertown would have a smaller drawing area.
The closest Walmarts are in North Reading (14 miles away) Framingham (16 miles), Lynn (15 miles) and Quincy (16 miles).
The proposed store would include both the merchandise typically found at Walmarts, as well as a grocery section, according to the Walmart webpage for the project.
Having a Walmart in the area would hurt property values, Sprogis said, with bright lights on at night, traffic and trucks making deliveries at night.
“Down the street from Walmart — that’s not a selling point,” Sprogis said.
More Walmarts Proposed Around Boston
Watertown is just one of the proposed sites in the Boston area where Walmart is looking to build new stores. The Walmart Massachusetts website lists Somerville and Saugus as planned stores, and Russ Davis, of Jobs With Justice, said that they have eyed stores in Roxbury’s Dudley Square, too.
“We should be careful not to pit one community against another,” Davis said.
In other areas where Walmarts have gone in, some local businesses have closed, and they have a record of discrimination against women and people of color, Davis said.
The new store would add about $500,000 to Watetown’s tax base, according to the Walmart website, and local contractors would be hired to do landscaping, snow removal and building maintenance.
State Rep. Jonathan Hecht met with Walmart officials, and he said the proposal is not ready for primetime.
“In my mind, they didn’t raise the bar enough to show that the benefits outweigh the costs,” Hecht said.
First Test of New Zoning
The project will be the first big one to come before the town since it adopted the Economic Development Plan in the spring.
The project does not fit into the zoning, which limits the size of the building, plus the site does not have access to the street, right now.
Developers would need to get a zoning change, or a special permit to make the project a reality.
Town Councilor Susan Falkoff said she does not want to see the town to just allow a box store to come in.
“Why do we have zoning rules if someone can just come in and we say, ‘OK, we’ll change that,’?” Falkoff said. “I’m not down with that.”
District B Town Councilor Cecilia Lenk said the reason for creating the Economic Development Plan was to make sure neighborhoods built near industrial zones were not dwarfed by new factories or retail stores.
“Maybe in Victorian times, people didn’t mind being next door to the stockyards, but I would have a problem with that,” Lenk said.
Falkoff wondered if the strong showing of people opposed to the Walmart project could end the proposal.
“I see a room full of people here opposed to Walmart coming to Watertown,” Falkoff said. “Can we just stop (the project) now?”
Not all Town Councilors attended the meeting, and not all that did spoke. Some residents wanted to know how the Town Councilors stand on the Walmart project.
Baskin said Sustainable Watertown will have more events, and one may include getting Town Councilors on the record about the project.