Bennington Wal-Mart Returns To Act 250 Approval Process

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(Host) A proposal for a new, expanded Wal-Mart store in Bennington is back in the state’s Act 250 approval process, after a year’s delay.

The plans call for tearing down a smaller Wal-Mart currently operating on the site.

VPR’s Susan Keese has more.

(Keese) At more than a hundred thousand square feet, the new store would double the size of the town’s existing Wal-Mart.

That store was retrofitted into an older building in a shopping plaza on Northside Drive, the town’s designated commercial growth area.

Developers initially sought permits for the expansion a year ago, but hearings were recessed.

A lawyer for the developer says the delay was due to regulatory issues, rather than the weak economy.

(George) "We had to do some modification in our storm water permit plan and all of that has occurred and a general permit has been issued by the ANR and that will be the subject of hearings probably in the first week of May."

(Keese) Rutland Attorney Alan George represents BLS-Bennington, the company that owns the shopping plaza.

George says another delay involves a traffic issue.

(George) "The Bennington County Regional Commission asked us to consider a roundabout at the entrance to the mall and we have had that under consideration. The VTrans people are also examining that, and so that is one of the prime drivers here in terms of what has been going on since last spring."

(Keese) Bennington Town Manager Stuart Hurd says studies have shown that a series of roundabouts at major intersections would enhance traffic flow on Northside drive.

And Hurd says the Wal-Mart project presents an opportunity to make those changes.

(Hurd) "We think it’s less expensive than resignalizing all of Northside drive to take into account the increase in traffic that may be generated by a new, larger Wal-Mart."

(Keese) That issue still needs to be worked out with the state Agency of Transportation and the Bennington Regional Commission.

Hurd says if the permit process begins in May and all goes well, construction could begin in 2011. And he says that would be a good thing for the town.

(Hurd) "Now I’m sure the opponents of Wal-Mart would disagree. But If you’re going to have a Wal-Mart in your community, and we have one here, I think having a Wal-Mart that is more efficient, more attractive certainly, only enhances our community."

(Keese) Hurd says the new store would grow the town’s Grand List and benefit the tax rate.

A group of opponents, Citizens for a Greater Bennington, has been denied party status in the hearings. But Hurd says they can always appeal a final decision.

For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese

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