When the Longmeadow Shops zoning change request goes for a vote again on February 3, voters will not be called upon to approve or disapprove the Shops’ expansion plan. Instead, the question will be whether to allow Grove Property Fund LLC or some subsequent owner to pursue commercial development more or less as it sees fit.
Even so, Grove Property and its allies have made some big promises: a drive-through CVS, the continued existence of the CVS on Longmeadow Street, and maintaining the farmer’s market in the parking lot of the Shops. From these promises, we have been led to believe that nothing but goodness will come from the zoning change and the expansion plan. There is just one catch. None of the promises I just mentioned are in writing, and they are not guaranteed.
If your reason for voting for the zoning change is a drive-through CVS, if you truly believe that the infirm and the sick will benefit from such a mega-pharmacy, wouldn’t it be a good idea to know that such a CVS will in fact occupy that space? When Grove Property came before the Select Board in July, a contract with CVS for the drive-through pharmacy was not in place. At the November town meeting, the contract was not in place. In January, when Grove Property came back before the Select Board, the contract was still not in place.
Nonetheless, the representative of Grove Property tells us that CVS is itching to expand its operations at the Shops and to build a drive-through pharmacy. If that is so, and this expanded CVS is the key selling point to the whole proposal, why is there such uncertainty? The most we have heard is that Grove Property will call CVS after the zoning change is passed.
Similarly, Grove Property tells us that CVS has no plans to close its Longmeadow Street location if CVS expands at the Shops. Grove Property’s representatives have said that CVS sees the two locations as two separate markets. But nary a word has been heard from CVS. There is nothing in writing that says that the Longmeadow Street CVS will survive.
Finally, we have been told that Grove Property plans to allow the farmer’s market to continue its operations with the new configuration. If that is important to you, why not get that promise in writing? Why not make the commitment enforceable?
Business interests like Grove Property and CVS make important decisions when they have signed commitments in writing. We should do the same. Why allow these corporations to change their minds, if these promises are important to voters’ decisions? Make no mistake, Grove Property wants to do a deal with Longmeadow voters. Voters have this one point of leverage to obtain the things that are important to them. Our decision to allow the zoning change would be binding on us and essentially irreversible. In exchange, are we going to accept vague assurances on the essential points of this deal?
When handling our own money, we would never enter into an important deal without getting the deal signed and in writing. Why should we be so trusting, so credulous, so careless when we enter into a deal on behalf of the Town?
Personally, I don’t see the crying need for this expansion, and I fear that expansion will exacerbate the existing traffic and parking problems at the Shops, especially since a traffic study has not yet been done. I believe that Longmeadow can be a great place to live without this added commercial development, and I also believe that ever-increasing traffic congestion represents the biggest threat to our quality of life.
But I recognize that others are more bullish on the benefits of this plan, if it is enacted as it has been presented. If we are going to bear the burden of more drivers on our roads, if we are going to run the risk that this expansion will require other, expensive design changes to the road system around Big Y and the Shops, why not insist that we get what has been promised to us? If we are going to vote for this change because people want a drive-through CVS, let’s get it in writing. If the other CVS location and the farmer’s market are part of this deal, let’s get that in writing too. If Grove Property and CVS cannot put their assurances in writing, then we should vote no.
Alex J. Grant is a member of the Longmeadow Select Board.
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