VNRC, Bennington Residents Reach Settlement with Wal-Mart Developer
The Vermont Natural Resources Council (VNRC) together with Citizens for a Greater Bennington (CFGB), and individual Bennington residents have reached a settlement in several cases related to the proposed expansion of a Wal-Mart store in Bennington.
“We entered into negotiations with project developer BLS Bennington, LC last year to determine if we could focus our resources on addressing our concerns over the impact of an expanded Wal-Mart on downtown Bennington and the Walloomsac River, rather than expending those resources on additional litigation,” said VNRC Executive Director Brian Shupe. “After an extended conversation we were able to reach a settlement.”
A key part of the settlement includes $200,000 in payments from BLS Bennington, LC to support the viability of downtown Bennington. The terms of the settlement also include additional riparian plantings to enhance water quality protection, and a separate payment of $20,000 from BLS Bennington to support projects to maintain, enhance or restore the Walloomsac River watershed.
“We are satisfied that our efforts over the last seven years will result in an opportunity to provide tangible investment in improving the vitality of downtown Bennington,” said Meg Campbell, the head of Citizens for a Greater Bennington, the local group that opposed the expansion of the store.
The citizens’ group does not consider this a “triumphant victory,” Campbell said.
“However, we are pleased that the developer has worked with us to come to a positive compromise that we hope will help meet the material needs and community desires of all the residents of Bennington,” she said.
Campbell went on to credit the support the citizens group received during the seven-year process.
“The Citizens for a Greater Bennington are very grateful to the Vermont Natural Resources Council and the Preservation Trust of Vermont. By working together, we have been able to effect a positive net result for the shared goals of protecting our natural and community resources,” she stated.
John Shannahan, a member of the Citizens for a Greater Bennington, joined Campbell in expressing support for the settlement.
“The efforts of VNRC over the past few years to bring everyone together and design a constructive solution should be celebrated as an example of how future development should move forward in Vermont,” Shannahan said. “The knowledge and experience they brought to the table regarding local concerns played a pivotal role in ensuring that the development occurs in a manner that benefits both the developer and the entire community.”
This settlement follows an earlier ruling by the Vermont Environmental Court that overturned a decision of the District Environmental Commission. In that ruling, the District Commission had denied VNRC and the Citizens for a Greater Bennington the right to participate as parties in the Act 250 process.
“The District Commission’s attempt to keep us and the citizens’ group from participating was counter to a citizen friendly process” explained VNRC’s General Counsel, Jamey Fidel. “The Environmental Court clarified, in a precedent setting ruling, that there should not be a rigorous bar for allowing neighbors and interested organizations to participate with the full rights of parties. We consider the Court’s ruling a significant victory in this case,” Fidel added.
The settlement ends a nearly eight-year-long protracted legal battle.