It is election season in Easton, and naturally the candidates’ views on growth and development are front and center. Mayoral candidate Al Silverstein promises in his campaign literature “to focus on preserving Easton’s small town character.” Ward 3 candidate Ron Engle states that he “will ensure all commercial development … is done to enhance the town of Easton … using infill, not sprawl.”
Actual voting records belie these campaign platitudes.
Until two years ago Easton’s zoning ordinance included, with limited exception, a 65,000 square foot “cap” on retail stores in order to limit “big box” development. But in February 2021 Mr. Silverstein voted to amend the zoning ordinance for the express purpose of facilitating development of a 130,000 square foot Home Depot big box on Route 50 in Easton. So much for “preserving our small town character.”
Mr. Engle similarly voted for the Home Depot exception, even though the new big box was slated to arise from a corn field at the intersection of Route 50 and Chapel Road. So much for “enhancement” of the town by prioritizing “infill, not sprawl.”
In Mr. Silverstein’s view, Easton needs to expand its growth on the east side of Route 50. Mr. Engle observed that “Easton is already a regional commercial center” so a new big box store would fit right in. Council member Elmer Davis provided the third vote, and the zoning amendment for the benefit of Home Depot passed 3-2. Council members Megan Cook and Don Abbatiello dissented.
The preexisting 65,000 square foot cap on retail stores was intended to implement Easton’s Comprehensive Plan. That plan, developed by hundreds of Easton’s citizens, states that big box stores should be “very limited,” and that “no new areas of regional retail” are on the planning horizon. The Easton Planning Commission reviewed the proposed Home Depot zoning amendment before it reached the Town Council, and concluded – through a unanimous 5-0 vote – that it was inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan, and that any relaxation of the proscription on big box development should be considered in connection with citizen development of the new Comp Plan, which is now underway.
But Messrs. Silverstein and Engle ignored the guidance of the Comprehensive Plan, and dismissed the recommendation of their own Planning Commission, apparently eager to make way for a new big box. In doing so, they also dismissed the desires of the many Easton citizens who developed the limitations on major retail in the current Comprehensive Plan.
It is noteworthy that, with an election pending, neither Mr. Silverstein nor Mr. Engle is touting these efforts to bring new big box development to our community. But in considering the candidates for Mayor, and for Council member from Ward 3, voters might want to compare current campaign promises with what actual voting records plainly reveal.
Tom Alspach serves on the Board of the Talbot Preservation Alliance.