Bennington citizens voice opinions on proposal

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(Host) In Bennington last night, planners invited citizens to weigh in on the latest draft of a bylaw limiting the size of big box retail stores.

As VPR’s Susan Keese reports, the town appears as divided as ever on the issue.

(Keese) The new proposal is almost identical to the law that was overturned in April. The old law set a 75,000 square foot cap on retail growth in Bennington’s Northside Drive commercial zone.

The new draft raises the limit to 115,000 square feet. That’s the size of the Wal-Mart expansion now making its way through the town approval process. Some officials speculated that the law’s defeat represented a wish to have a bigger Wal-Mart.

Planning Commission chairman, Larry Horst, says the recent ‘no’ vote didn’t say much about how the town does want to shape retail growth.

(Horst) “And as you could tell from tonight, there were a lot of different concerns that caused people to vote either ‘yes’ or ‘no’.”
Proponents of size-limits thought the new draft set the threshold too high. They also favored requiring an impact study to be paid for by developers of stores bigger than thirty-thousand square feet. Others said the town should at least split the cost.

The hearing also brought out voices that were less in evidence in the meetings prior to the first bylaw’s passage. Bennington native, Bert Lane, said he represents the silent, working class majority that doesn’t often speak at public meetings.

(Lane) “People say: ‘Let’s grow slow, let’s take our time.’ Well, I’m almost fifty-years-old. And I’ve seen Bennington grow very slow. And I think it’s time that Bennington grows. I’m not in favor of any cap. And I’m not in favor of any impact study. I’d like to see a mall. I’d like to see one very large mall, which would be larger than one big box store.

(Keese) The proposal goes next to the Select Board, which has the power to pass a bylaw or call for a town-wide vote. But resident, Mike Bethel, who initiated the April referendum, says he’ll force as many votes as necessary to defeat the idea permanently.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese.

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