DENNIS – The score for speakers was 27 in favor of Lowe’s versus 56 opposed, give or take a couple of people. And the room was hot–very hot.
That sums up the Cape Cod Commission’s first hearing on the proposal to build a Lowe’s Home Improvement store in Dennis.
In a battle of community character versus free enterprise, it seems no one is neutral. A crowd of close to 400 crowded into the auditorium at the Nathaniel H. Wixon Innovation School Tuesday evening, July 16, to gather community input on the controversial project.
More than 200 people signed up to speak at the hearing. But as the temperature rose in the room, people trickled out over the course of the four-hour meeting and by the time it ended at 10 p.m., fewer than 70 people from the audience had spoken. Some of those in favor and opposed said they were speaking on behalf of others, including an attorney for the opponents for which 15 people yielded their speaking slots. That meant she had 15 minutes to speak, rather than the one minute designated per person.
The project—a 100,000 square foot building plus a 30,000 square foot garden center—is to be built on a 15-acre site on Theophilus F. Smith Road off Route 134 in South Dennis.
From the sea of people wearing bright yellow “No” stickers on their shirts, at first glance the audience seemed mostly opposed. But as speaker after speaker rose address the Cape Cod Commission subcommittee charged with making a recommendation to the full commission on the proposal, people in favor of the project also had their say.
Under Cape Cod Commission regulations, the project qualifies as a Development of Regional Impact. On that much everyone agreed. To those in favor, that means the project will give residents of Dennis and neighboring towns access to competitively priced goods as well as jobs. To those against, that means that the devastation that the big box store will inflict will have dire impacts not only on Dennis, but on neighboring towns as well.
There are competing petitions—3,000 in favor and 5,000 opposed—and competing Facebook pages, 1,000 likes for the Yes to Dennis Lowe’s page, 251 likes on the No to Lowes page.
There were young people like Zelda MacGregor, speaking on behalf of two of her friends from Dennis and Yarmouth. “We need the jobs,” she said. And others, like Jim Morton of Brewster, who works in South Dennis, who spoke strongly against the project. “Our special place will never be the same,” he said.
There were self-proclaimed “washashores” and people with deep roots on the Cape. Jeff Rogers of North Truro said his family’s ties to the Cape go back 14 generations, to the Pilgrims. He spoke against it. David Otis, who has lived in South Orleans for 25 years, spoke in favor. “I look forward to going to Lowe’s,” he said.
One man said that given the heat in the room, if Lowe’s promised to install air conditioning in the school auditorium in time for the next meeting, they’d probably get a lot more supporters. Another saw the turnout, pro and con, on such a hot night as indicative that people care about their town.
The evening began with the Lowe’s representatives stating their case. David Koerner, design and engineering director of Lowe’s, said the store would generate $100,000 annually in tax revenue, create 130 to 170 jobs and inject $16.5 million into the local economy. Robert Chamberlain of Dennis, the property owner who wants to sell to Lowe’s, said his family has had a lot to do with the development of Route 134, which now supports 75 businesses. He said the area is zoned for industrial use and is perfect for a Lowe’s. “It seems hard to argue it’s anything but a good fit,” he said.
But later in the evening, Michael Andrews, a manager at Mid Cape Homes in Orleans, said he had worked for Lowe’s and had seen their strategy: open in small towns, hire a lot of staff, then cut the staff and switch most of them to part-time. Once local stores go out of business, raise the prices.
During a break in the meeting, Lyn Foster of South Dennis, whose husband owns Breakaway, a local store that sells grills, agreed with that assessment. “I don’t consider it competition. It’s slaughter.” Other businesses “don’t have a chance because prices are so much lower,” she said.
Lynn Colangione of Yarmouthport said no amount of traffic mitigation or road improvements paid by the developer would help since the store is expected to generate more than 7,000 car trips on a Saturday. “No changes in the roads can handle that,” she said.
Felicia Penn of Hyannis, whose family owns Puritan Clothing Company, warned that big box stores destroy family businesses. She said Hyannis should be looked at as a cautionary tale and the amount Dennis will gain in tax revenue is nothing compared to what they will lose. “Come to my village. I’d be happy to show you the changes,” she said.
But Joe Glynn of Yarmouth said Lowe’s is a former mom and pop business that will be generous toward the community.
Rick Hamlin of South Dennis, former owner of Evergreen Landscaping, said he has watched Dennis grow from dirt cart paths to a thriving economic area, and the economic opportunities on Route 134 are good for the town. “Lowe’s is what’s needed,” he said.
Jack and Sonia Cuneo of West Dennis said Lowe’s would put many stores out of business. “It’s like taking the Patriots and pitting them against D-Y High,” he said.
Cape Cod Commission staffers gave an abridged presentation of their analysis of the project. Main problem: traffic. Commission Director of Transportation Services Glenn Cannon listed a number of traffic and road safety issues with the Lowe’s plan as presented.
Because of the large number of people in attendance, the Commission will hold a second hearing on the issue to gather more community input on July 30, 6 p.m., at Wixon school. If last night’s meeting was any indication, BYOF (Bring Your Own Fan.).
– Laura M. Reckford