In the matter of Cumberland farms vs. the town of Wellfleet, we’ve had several months of waiting for the other shoe to drop.
In the fall of 2015, the citizens of Wellfleet read in the newspaper about a court ruling which, if it is not reversed, will have a major impact on the future of our town. Major, and in the opinion of most who have had a say about it, negative impact.
In 2011 Wellfleet voted in a bylaw to ban “formula businesses.” The logic of the bylaw is that such chains and franchises as McDonalds, Burger King, and other usual suspects would have a deleterious effect on our quality-of-life and the character of our town.
Some months later Cumberland Farms proposed enlarging its long-grandfathered store on Route 6, in part to include a gas station. At a well-attended hearing, citizens were overwhelmingly opposed to the idea, citing bright lights, commotion, and the increased danger, in an already dangerous spot on the highway, of even more impatient drivers making the left hand turn into the new store.
No one at the hearing got up to make a pitch for the crying need for a third gas station in this already congested few hundred yards.
Unwilling to take “no” for an answer, the chain took the matter to Land Court and in the early fall, the judge found in their favor. He disagrees with the logic of the bylaw, seeing no reason why formulaic businesses can’t “fit in” with the Wellfleet aesthetic, and suggests that any attempt to control the look of such businesses should be accomplished through design regulations (such as the “colonial-style” design proposed for Cumberland Farms).
This of course misses the whole point of the bylaw: that clones of thousands of such businesses all around the country are inherently and essentially different from locally owned businesses, and dilute and homogenize unique local life everywhere they are allowed to spring up. Our town’s resistance to such businesses is a major factor in the town’s appeal to both residents and visitors.
If the Land Court’s decision stands, presumably Dunkin Donuts, the town’s other grandfathered chain, will come back at us once again for a drive-through window, another expansion resoundingly opposed in hearings and turned down by the ZBA.
Rumors have been flying about a possible sale of that venerable mainstay of Main Street, The Lighthouse Restaurant. One hopes for a local sale, but the venue could, without a protective bylaw, get the attention of the likes of McDonalds, which would no doubt be happy to reduce the size of its golden arches in deference to town charm.
The town has appealed the Land Court ruling, at least the part that refers specifically to the Cumberland Farms enlargement. It’s not clear just what the Board of Selectmen intend to do about the reversal of the formula business bylaw. Our town administrator and members of the planning board say that for legal reasons they are not free to comment on the appeal.
A friend on the planning board notes that the attorney general warned, in approving the bylaw, that it was vulnerable to challenge. “Redlining” mega corporations may be as unconstitutional as redlining on a racial basis. Any such legal thinking seems like a dubious basis for denying to citizens the right to determine the future of their town.
It was a fine thing this town did to define our values and our town’s character with that bylaw. We should regard Cumberland Farms’ determination to subvert it as an unfriendly act.
Such a company is a formidable enemy, with pockets deeper than those of one little town. If our appeal fails, we do have another sort of weapon. We could respond to the company’s unfriendliness by acting unfriendly back–in the form of an organized boycott. Say to Cumby’s now that, however inconvenient it might be, we won’t buy a thing from them if they persist in foisting this unwanted upgrade on the town.