Letter to Tab: Economic expansion has high costs

Members of Watertown Coalition for Sustainable Development were pleased to read the recent report commissioned by the Town Council, the Strategic Framework for Sustainable Development. Based on multiple public meetings and prodigious research, the report makes clear what Watertown residents want for their town: a thoughtful blending of building, preservation, and redevelopment that will enhance our tax revenues and our quality of life. We appreciate the foresight of the council in commissioning the report in the first place, so that future planning proceeds according to these guiding principles.  
At the most recent meeting of the Town Council, residents were nearly unanimous in their praise for the report as it is now written. We were disappointed, then, that at that meeting, the councilors, as elected representatives of the public, voted to send the report to a committee on which only three councilors sit.  Several councilors voiced their reservations over the report’s warning that, without a strategic approach to development, Watertown would become “vulnerable … to encroachment by new big box retail outlets” and that this would “tip the character” of our area towards a regional shopping destination. Though such expansion would clearly come with high costs for our town, Council Vice President Steve Corbett stated that “private development” itself should be allowed to determine the proper uses of town space. His comment went against the spirit of the Council’s commissioning of the report—and against the spirit of public/private partnerships that rely on the guiding hand of town government.
WCSD stands behind the research of scholars—economists, historians, sociologists, and city planners—who document the detrimental effect of big box stores like Walmart on the towns and cities where they are built. Walmart in particular has been mentioned as a possible retail developer on the Arsenal Street corridor. First, we note that in the past, when a Walmart has opened in a community, it has had a negative effect on the town’s quality of life:  violating environmental laws, contributing to crime, traffic, and air pollution. Walmart is also well known for its abuse of labor laws, and is facing law suits connected to its poor treatment of women and immigrant workers.
Second, Walmart will offer us a net loss in tax revenue after we consider 1) the cost of its downward pressure on local wages; 2)  the loss of revenue from local businesses, who will be undercut by Walmart’s prices; and 3) the shifting of the costs of workers’ benefits to local taxpayers.
Composed of residents from all Watertown neighborhoods who care deeply about our future, WCSD supports the findings and the recommendations of the current Strategic Economic Development Report.  We urge our Councilors to heed their constituents’ concerns and interests:  use the insights of this publicly supported, independent report to guide our town toward a sustainable, profitable future. 
Marjorie N. Feld
Frank Street
On behalf of Watertown Coalition for Sustainable Development
Read original letter at:  http://www.wickedlocal.com/watertown/archive/x230659398/Letter-Economic-expansion-has-high-costs#ixzz1bF2bfIJK

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