TJX project introduced to residents butt first

“Storm of the Century” was a 1999 made-for-TV miniseries from the psychotic brilliance of Stephen King.

In the series, a massive force invades a town, and the subsequent actions cause mayhem among the townsfolk.

Eventually, the townsfolk turn on one another as the torment grows. The town forces eight families that can relieve the situation into a perverse, life-affecting lottery that one family ultimately loses.

But the rest of the townsfolk are relieved and can live happily ever after.

Lordstown and TJX are not from a Stephen King story.

Adding 1,000 jobs to a community should never be deemed an invasion.

And landing a major corporation is hardly an evil force. But the process of landing a massive TJX distribution center in Lordstown had all the townsfolk drama that the miniseries had.

Landing the facility meant a significant zoning change of 300 acres or so from residential to commercial. The enormous facility would bump right up to homes and greenspace that had been a draw for 80-some homeowners. You know homes – those single biggest investments of our lives.

For those 80 or so, TJX was a storm of the century. One homeowner is a buddy.

I can attest that two months ago today, he was eager for just two things: a St. Patty’s Day beer and the start of the golf season. Phrases such as zoning appeal, land buffer and environmental covenant were never in his vernacular.

Yet, into the stew he was thrust. Or jumped into. I can’t recall a community event in my past 20 years where an entire region of 400,000 people weighed in so heavily on a pocket of 80 or so unpracticed and unrehearsed homeowners.

In fact, when TJX initially pulled out of the deal a few weeks ago, the first angry email I received was from a neighbor. Mind you, it was not a neighbor to the project.

It was my neighbor.

We are window-to-window at home – and 23 miles from the TJX property. He has more reason to be angry at my lawn cutting. Yet he showed ire I’d never seen about residents bucking TJX.

The process was a perfect storm for not just the 80 homeowners, but also for the almost 4,000 village residents and their now 400,000 closest neighbors in five counties. “Perfect” in that:

— You never turn down economic improvement – even if 100 jobs. TJX will be up to 1,000 jobs.

— GM Lordstown just announced it is cutting another 1,200 or so jobs essentially across the street from this site.

— Lordstown residents face higher water rates due to the impact of the GM reductions.

— 600 citizens – most who would never turn out for a zoning hearing – rallied at the school to support a warehouse. Not an amusement park; not a new Ikea store. A warehouse.

— National news shared headlines of “small town turns down 1,000 jobs.”

— A U.S. congressman and a millionaire jumped into the pro-TJX crowd.

— Harvey Lutz, a would-be land seller to TJX, dumped truckloads of chicken poop on his property in a pledge to build a smelly chicken farm if TJX wasn’t permitted on his property.

Over the course of these seven weeks, you could hear in my buddy’s voice the weight of all of this.

There are two truths I continued to believe throughout:

— Nobody opposed 1,000 jobs coming to their community – even the homeowners.

— No one would want such a massive facility replacing greenspace they enjoyed next to their home purchase. Any critic of the 80 homeowners who argued that “heck, they live next to both a turnpike and a car factory” has not driven the space. What you can easily assume when you look at Google Maps is not what you hear and sense when you are on the roads out there.

As perfect of a storm as it was, it was also a perfect script of a public process: Leaders showed vision and power; common citizens opposed; a clash ensued; and a mediation occurred.

We appear headed toward a peaceful, albeit begrudging, acceptance.

But was it doable from the get go?

Of the many realities learned, I hope, too, this is a lesson for government and business leaders.

This TJX project walked into the front door of Lordstown butt first.

The last time I walked into a home with my butt first, I was pledging a fraternity.

When did you last walk into a friend’s home that way?

A blind, random zoning change of hundreds of adjoining acres is no way to introduce yourself to your neighbors.

If local leaders did not see that, then TJX sure could have.

My motherland of Buffalo is enjoying a huge renaissance right in the city; not the suburbs. News stories of mega changes have hit my inbox for months now – changes just like the TJX change.

Sketches, hearings, changes, adjustments, sketches, modifications, hearings, sketches and hearings.

Said one official: “You want the process to be as pristine as possible.”

I hope when the next such TJX project arrives here, government and corporate leaders properly walk in the front door of their neighbors’ home.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.

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