Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Development News From All Over

[One result of Massachusetts' new expanded-gaming law in 2011 and 2012 was the interest shown by a casino developer in a parcel located not far from the southwest border of my town of Holliston (and not far from my house), in the town of Milford. The way the law is written, neighboring towns have no say in whether a casino ought to be built nearby, despite the fact that casinos have considerable regional impact. However, it can be hard to get the community riled up. In this satire, I imagined Holliston becoming hemmed in by all sorts of commercial development, yet still unable to hit the "angry" button.]

Hopkinton officials are set to unveil ambitious plans for a mammoth array of auto dealerships along Route 85 to be known as "Hop City." The project, to be developed by a consortium of business interests, will be situated on the town's south side, near the College Street intersection, adjacent to the Holliston border. 

"Rather than worry night and day about future business development, we decided to take control," says planner Fred Fleaman. "It's going to mean jobs, that's the main thing. Construction jobs first, then jobs in sales and service. Maybe not the best-paying jobs ever, but you've got to start somewhere. And then you've got to finish up somewhere else. Anyway, we're going to need colorful balloons on an ongoing basis, and signs and streamers, and there'll be lots of work for cleaning crews, too."  

Asked whether Holliston officials have commented on the proposal, Fleaman states, "The way the law reads, this is our deal. We don't have to get permission from another town to go forward with it. We need the tax revenue, and if there's issues about traffic or whatever, they'll just have to deal with it."  

So far, reaction in Holliston has been muted, and opposition has been tepid. One official said that the best option was to "wait and see; there's not a lot we can do right now." A spokesman allowed that the auto mega-mall "could be a plus. Our people need jobs, too. What we don't need is a lot of ugly protests about this – that would be bad for the town's image. People looking to establish businesses here, what are they going to think?"  

In related news, Medway officials plan to announce that a "huge" deposit of copper ore has recently been discovered during test drilling some 150-300 feet below grade, on the town's north side where it borders Holliston. Town planners say that the mine will be of the open-pit variety. It is expected to grow in width and depth as ore is extracted and more of the "substrate" is exposed. It will be called, simply, "The Pits."  

Medway authorities are excited about having a big mining operation in town, where commercial growth has lately been sluggish. "It's going to mean jobs, that's the main thing," says planner Phil Flatley. "Yes, I know it's right next to Holliston. We're very aware of that. We're also very aware that the project is 100% on Medway land, and really, Holliston hasn't got a leg to stand on."   

Flatley dismisses questions about what will happen when the mine grows big enough to swallow up the schools and other town structures it is helping to support. "People sometimes take an anti-business attitude," he argues. "That's the real problem here. People get comfortable having clean air and clean water and not very much big industry around, and they just dig their heels in and want things to stay that way forever. It's unrealistic! Change is inevitable," he declares. "That's how the pyramids got built, and the Great Wall of China, and the Panama Canal, too. Think anybody pulled a permit for that?"  

Under a unique arrangement with mine owners, Medway will offer special after-school hours at The Pits to kids who want to get a taste of what real work is like, and earn some spending cash too – though, of course, underage mine workers won't be eligible for collective bargaining.  

So far, reaction in Holliston has been muted, and opposition has been tepid. "It might not be a bad thing," suggested one official, "though we'll have to wait and see what the plans are, in the event that anybody shows them to us. It's true that the area is perceived as less than business-friendly, and this will go a long way towards countering that perception."  

Meanwhile, Sherborn officials, as hungry for new sources of funds as anybody, are ready to kick off a major undertaking that will completely transform the western end of town, near the border with Holliston. To be known as the Shire Raceway, or simply, "The Shire," the sprawling development will feature a premier stock car racetrack the likes of Watkins Glen, with year-round auto racing plus several hotels, along with entertainment and dining facilities. 

Brushing aside questions about the proper role of government, planner Fiona Farquhar says that Sherborn won't be linked by name with the new racetrack. "It's just the place where the track will be located, generating revenue for us," she says, "and jobs, of course." Farquhar understands that Holliston residents might not like a noisy racetrack on their border, and won't get any of the anticipated revenue, but, she says, "that's just too bad for them."  

In addition, influential Sherborn authorities have persuaded the state to block Route 16 where it currently heads westward from Sherborn center, "eliminating quite a dangerous intersection," notes Farquhar. Sherborn would prefer that traffic flow to The Shire by other routes, so the town will also influence the state to widen (Farquhar: "to grow") Route 16 from two to eight lanes from new ramps at Route 495 all the way up through Holliston to the Sherborn line. "Racing fans from the north, west, and south need easy access," Farquhar asserts, "and what could be easier? Plus, we'd like to siphon off some of that casino traffic for ourselves."  

So far, reaction in Holliston has been muted, and opposition has been tepid. "It could be a plus," offered one resident, referring to the impending obliteration of the historic downtown. "Things have to change. It's going to mean jobs. You gotta break some eggs. Doesn't everybody know that?"

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