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Grant: Pride’s ‘Process’ is to Sue the Town

Robert Bolduc, the owner of the Pride gas station on the Longmeadow/Enfield line, was trying his best to hold two irreconcilable ideas together when he said that his third lawsuit against the Town of Longmeadow showed there was no “major problem.” Bolduc claimed that his latest lawsuit was just “one step in the process,” as he portrayed his litigation as “something to break the logjam.” Repeatedly suing the town may be Pride’s “process” for getting its expansion plans approved, but it is certainly not Longmeadow’s preferred process.

Bolduc would like to add some more gas pumps at the station, as well as a bakery/café on an adjoining parcel in Enfield. Bolduc’s “logjam” comment may have referenced the Planning Board’s approval process for his project, but logjam also aptly describes the situation at this gas station, with a multitude of vehicles trying to navigate a tricky intersection on the state line. Adding more pumps would seem to add more logs to that logjam, but Bolduc claims otherwise.

In fact, Bolduc said in February 2017, “This won’t bring in any extra traffic,” and claimed, “This will handle the traffic that’s there now better.” What? No more traffic? Isn’t that the point of the expansion—to bring in more cars to refuel at Pride’s pumps?

MGM, during our tense negotiations over the surrounding community agreement when I was on the Longmeadow Select Board, was good enough to acknowledge one obvious point when it came to traffic. Yes, its business would generate traffic. A business with no traffic is a failing business, and MGM wanted lots and lots of people to come to its casino.

Of course, some innovative city planning in places like Boston has tried to achieve growth and greater population density without increasing the number of cars on the road, but that is not what is going on here. Pride is not expanding its gas pumps because it is hoping for an increase in pedestrians or more customers arriving by public transportation.

The standoff between Pride and the Planning Board and Longmeadow’s town manager stems from a basic conflict between what is good for Longmeadow and what it is good for Pride. As the chair of the Planning Board said back in February, the current situation is already difficult and potentially dangerous, with a busy section of Route 5 coinciding with the state line and the location of the Pride station.

The issue is clear to anyone who drives through the area. Pride draws a huge clientele from Connecticut because a trip just over the border nets drivers over 10 cents per gallon in savings. (Connecticut’s gas tax is actually 22 cents higher than Massachusetts’ gas tax, but customers do not get all of the savings.) Those drivers from Connecticut need to take a left turn into the station, which causes traffic going into Longmeadow to back up and causes drivers to try to skirt the rules by driving in the wrong lane near the intersection at the state line. Pride’s location works for Pride, it works for Connecticut residents, and it hurts Longmeadow residents.

Pride has been barking up this tree for over five years, and approval has been stymied by concerns over the likelihood that expansion with worsen the traffic situation. By now, Bolduc should realize that this is a nettlesome issue, with Longmeadow having legitimate concerns about safety and traffic. Yet, he was grousing back in February about an extra month for the town to complete an independent traffic study. Now, the town wants a more extensive traffic study, which appears to be the impetus for lawsuit No. 3.

Town residents should be confident that the concerns of the town manager and the Planning Board are genuine. The town manager said that at the outset of the latest expansion proposal in 2016, he “viewed this as an opportunity to give Pride the opportunity to invest in its business and to improve a troublesome intersection.” The town manager has been pro-development during his tenure, and if he is saying that he and the Planning Board have been unable to find a way to make this expansion work, then there must be no good solution, at least not yet.

Meanwhile, Longmeadow will be stuck with the legal fees for defending these lawsuits. And Pride has deep pockets to pay its own lawyers and a strong financial interest in pressing the issue. Its location on the state line is almost a license to print money because of the difference in state gas taxes and the absence of any nearby competition on the Massachusetts side of the line. Pride could thank its lucky stars that it has such an advantageous position and be satisfied with what it has, or it could grasp for more profit. So far, Pride wants more.

– Alex J. Grant is a lawyer living in Longmeadow. His email address is alex.grant68@yahoo.com.