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The Law    

The Law Print Page

Centers Argue
"Too Much Traffic"

by Ron Davis

Serious traffic concerns will not stop construction plans for a new shopping center in the Lowell, MA, suburban community of Westford.

The new shopping center will be known as Cornerstone Square. And raising the traffic concerns are owners of nearby competing shopping centers—Westford Valley Marketplace I & II.

Such concerns are genuine. Visitors to all three shopping centers would need to negotiate an intersection known as Minot’s Corner. And state highway officials have ranked Minot’s Corner among the top “safety plague” intersections in Massachusetts.

Moreover, an independent study of Minot’s Corner came to this conclusion: that without infrastructure improvements by next year, the intersection will experience failure—even with no new construction of shopping destinations.

Making matters worse, developers of Cornerstone Square do not plan any improvements to the Minot’s Corner intersection. State highway officials, however, independently project “upgrades” to Minot’s Corner. Those officials have in fact already hired a firm to redesign that intersection.

But such improvements require the taking of land from the Westford Valley Marketplaces. Moreover, plans call for creation of a traffic median that is certain to have a negative impact on those shopping centers.

Their owners therefore argue that highway planners improperly determined that access and egress would be provided “in a manner that causes the least impact.” The owners add that plans also failed to give “due regard to the nature and condition of all adjacent structures and uses.” Finally, they charge that planners failed to ensure that there will be “safe entrances and exits and sufficient off-street parking spaces.”

The Massachusetts Land Court considered those arguments, but ruled in favor of the developers of Cornerstone Square. Explained the judge: “I am convinced that traffic congestion at the Minot’s Corner intersection will be, to some extent, worse after Cornerstone Square is operational. The issue becomes whether the decision to permit the project in light of that determination was arbitrary or capricious. I rule that it was not…. The fact that Minot’s Corner is slated for major improvements means that increased traffic congestion is only temporary.”

Added the judge, “No [court] decision has been presented to me that stands for the proposition that every time a local board permits a development that will increase traffic, that decision is invalid. Rather, I am left with a deferential standard of not substituting my judgment for the judgment of the local planning board, of being concerned with ‘the validity but not the wisdom of the board’s action.’”

(Westford Valley Marketplace, Inc. v. Green, 2011 WL 1938523 [Mass.Land Ct.])

Decision: May 2011
Published: June 2011



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