VNRC’s Wal-Mart Work Continues in Earnest
VNRC continues to advance a successful campaign to hold Wal-Mart and other “big box” stores accountable to the people and places where they propose to do business in Vermont. Together with project partners, VNRC is working to modify or stop proposals for mega-stores in Vermont that are poorly sited, out of scale and would hurt our traditional downtowns and local businesses.
VNRC continues to be involved in the proposed 160,000-plus square foot Wal-Mart in St. Albans and the expansion of the existing 50,000 square foot Wal-Mart in Bennington to 112,000 square feet. In addition, JL Davis, the St. Albans Wal-Mart developer, has proposed a 150,000 square foot Wal-Mart in Derby. VNRC’s work is focused on these three locations as well as on the issue of large-scale retail development on a statewide scale, as we work to raise awareness about the damaging impacts Wal-Mart and other “big box” proposals can have on communities. In addition, VNRC is working to address community needs by building support for less costly alternatives. Here is a current status report on the three proposals:
Act 250 – VNRC, and a citizens group called Northwest Citizens for Responsible Growth (A group VNRC helped establish three years ago), and the neighboring Hudak Farm continue to participate as parties to the Act 250 proceedings of the local environmental commission on the application of JLD Properties for the 160,00 square foot Wal-Mart in a cornfield two mile north of downtown St. Albans. The commission held Act 250 hearings in the summer and fall of 2006 and VNRC is awaiting a ruling from the commission. Either way, their decision appears headed for Environmental Court.
Local Zoning Permit – As expected, the St. Albans Development Review Board re-issued Wal-Mart its local zoning permit. Last year, the town withdrew the original permit after the Environmental Court ruled that two of the DRB members had conflicts of interest, which had contaminated the local process. (One of the local Development Review Board members had worn a hat with the inscription “St. Albans Needs Wal-Mart” to a hearing and another board member had signed a pro Wal-Mart petition.) In this second round, VNRC, on behalf of the citizens group and the Hudak Farm, has appealed the permit to the Environmental Court on these conflict of interest issues as well as on the several substantive issues relating to traffic, environmental and economic impact, and other issues.
Stormwater Permit – Wal-Mart has applied for two stormwater discharge permits from the Agency of Natural Resources: an operating permit and a construction permit. VNRC has appealed the operating permit in Environmental Court, raising concerns that the proposed Wal-Mart will increase discharges to an already polluted tributary of Lake Champlain. VNRC is also is working to cross examine ANR staff, in front of the local district commission, about their rationale for issuing the construction permit.
Representing a group in Bennington known as Citizens for a Greater Bennington VNRC least year appealed the local Development Review Board permit for a 112,000 square foot Wal-Mart in Bennington to Environmental Court. The judge has ordered the parties to try mediating their differences. The citizens group and VNRC are concerned with traffic, fiscal and economic impact, and site planning deficiencies, including the size and placement of the store. Mediation talks are moving ahead, albeit at a slow pace. Meanwhile, a consultant is doing an independent fiscal and economic impact analysis, which is being paid for by the developer. The Act 250 process will probably begin after the economic analysis is complete in December.
J.L. Davis, the same developer who is seeking to build a store in St. Albans, has received a local zoning permit for a 150,000 square foot Wal-Mart in DerbyThe Derby Planning Commission has imposed several conditions, which Davis is working to address. Along with the Preservation Trust of Vermont, VNRC continues to monitor the process and have begun talks with local residents who are concerned with the project. We organized and convened the first formal group discussion with local citizens in Newport as an opportunity to share concerns about the impact of the proposed Derby Wal-Mart and the first brainstorm of ways we might move forward.