Monday, September 21, 2009

Sixteen years and what do you get? No Wal-Mart, and no resolution to Vermont town's debate of it

Debates over commercial development are not uncommon to rural America, but the debate over construction of a Wal-Mart in St. Albans, Vt., is believed to be the longest-running one in the country. The proposal to build the store in a corn field was first suggested in 1993 and defeated after a four-year battle, Sarah Schweitzer of The Boston Globe reports. A second attempt began in 2003 and has been the subject of debate in St. Albans since.

Jeff Davis, the Vermont developer leading the project, wrote in a June letter to the editor of the St. Albans Messenger that the last of the necessary permits was received in spring 2008, but six of the permits remain under appeal before the Vermont Environmental Court. Project opponents, including Vermont Natural Resources Council and Preservation Trust of Vermont, say that "satisfying a yen for cheap goods will yield negative long-term effects."

Vermont has only four Wal-Marts, the fewest in the nation, Schweitzer reports. Adjoining Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine have 46, 27 and 22, respectively. A recent hearing on the project included pleadings from both sides totally over 1,000 pages, and an October rally for the construction turned out 1,500 people. Stephen Holmes of the Natural Resources Council told Schweitzer that the group would welcome the store if it were in a downtown location. Opponents say the store could cause the closure of 12 businesses and the loss of 40 jobs, while supporters say the town needs the store to bring new jobs to the area -- and a place to buy underwear, among other things.

The chief point of opposition remains the worry that a Wal-Mart would "erode Vermont's unique ethos," Schweitzer reports. She quotes Marie Frey, who moved to St. Albans from Cleveland: "All the development there has made it so unrecognizable. And now it’s chasing me. The development is going on here, little by little." (Read more)

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