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The town wants to limit the size of the buildings in Shawsheen Plaza.

Whether at Shawsheen Plaza or elsewhere in town, Planning Board Chairman Paul Salafia sees the introduction of a big-box retailer as bad news for Andover.

That's why the Planning Board convinced Town Meeting on April 30 to limit the size of businesses within the 70-acre mixed-use district north of downtown.

The zoning bylaw amendment caps businesses at 65,000 square feet, a move meant to stop big-box retailers like Wal-Mart, Target, Lowe's and Home Depot from setting up shop near Andover's downtown, according to Salafia.

"My sense is no matter where it would be in town it would effect our downtown, and that's something I would be opposed to," said Salafia. "If you hurt our downtown, you hurt our real estate values. If you hurt our real estate values, you hurt our schools. It has a viral effect through the whole community if you effect downtown."

Within the 35 acres zoned for commercial use in the town's mixed-use district, which is predominantly made up of Shawsheen Plaza, the largest establishment is Market Basket, with a footprint just under 35,000 square feet, according to Town Planner Jacki Byerley.

"They could almost go to twice their size and not fall into the restrictions of the 65,000 square feet," Byerley said. "Any one of the businesses there could grow."

While Byerley contends the Article 48 zoning bylaw was not constructed to prevent big-box retailers from coming to the mixed-use district, she said it would force those businesses to play by Andover's rules when it comes to the size of their stores.

"We just wanted to make sure that no one parcel or parcels were taken up by one business," Byerley said. "We like the diversity there. It just brings more people into the plaza."

"The purpose of this is not to prevent development, but to encourage a variety of development," Salafia said at Town Meeting.

Byerley pointed to a smaller-scale Wal-Mart built in Methuen as an example of how a big-box retailer can plan something that would work better in a mixed-use zone.

Unlike several neighboring communities, Andover does not have any current proposals for a big-box retailer to come to town, said Salafia. There are few places one could even be built.

"There's not a lot of potential area for it," he said. "There's certainly no room in the general (business district)."

Under Andover zoning guidelines, retail businesses are only allowed in the mixed-use district, general business district and a relatively small-area zoned as Industrial G. Industrial G-zoned areas in town include an area close to the mixed-use district and areas surrounding both Tewksbury and Dale streets, according to Byerley.

"It doesn't look very big on our zoning map," she said.

Byerley also thought the idea of a big-box coming to the general business district was "very unlikely because most businesses are well established already.

"There are a lot of smaller lots in the downtown," she said. "They'd have to buy up quite a few of them to build anything."



Little boxes

Are big-box retailers trying to beat communities like Andover at their own game? Town Meeting passed a zoning bylaw April 30 that limits the sizes of businesses in the mixed-use district to 65,000 square feet. But Wal-Mart and Home Depot have made news this year with plans to build stores as small as 30,000 square feet.

Read what town planning officials have to say about this little-big-box strategy in next week's Andover Townsman.

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