War over Walmart rages on in St. Albans - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

War over Walmart rages on in St. Albans

St. Albans, Vermont - April 30, 2010

Marie Frey is in the business of growth-- raising 25 acres of produce, plus a greenhouse full of flowers on Hudak Farm.

But she says a proposed development is the wrong kind of growth. Developers want to build a Walmart less than half a mile away-- on what Frey calls prime agricultural soil in St. Albans.

"It's just really difficult to think of us trying to compete with that sort of buying power," she said. "I think it would have an enormous impact on our business, not only from the competition of the garden center, or possibly produce. Walmart is no longer building stores that do not contain groceries."

The field on Route 7 just south of the Swanton-St. Albans line has been the battleground for what some say is the country's longest running war on Walmart. First proposed 17 years ago, a second attempt at developing the discount store is now being disputed in court. Hudak Farm is central to the latest challenge-- simply put, whether zoning laws would be violated.

"We're fairly optimistic the law will prevail and we believe the law is on our side," said Sue Prent, an activist for the group Northwest Citizens for Responsible Growth. "We would not have persisted this long if we did not believe the law was very definitely on our side."

Developer Jeff Davis did not respond to calls seeking comment. But many people in northwest Vermont want a Walmart here.

"Absolutely, I think we should have a Walmart for sure," said Jerry Benoit of Fairfax. "We have to travel to Burlington for everything we need."

"We wouldn't have to travel all the way to Burlington," said Charlene Combs of St. Albans. "It would be a lot easier for the people who have a hard time getting a ride."

"We definitely need it," Heidi Stefaniak of Georgia said. "It's a pain in the butt to have to go all the way to Burlington for a pair of socks. It's kind of ridiculous. We need a bigger store like that."

Still, many worry about the impact on local businesses.

"I think it's too small of a town and it takes away from the downtown community," said Mark Harris of St. Albans. "You can get 500 rolls of toilet paper for cheap, but what's the real cost in the end and what's the cost to this community?"

They are issues that make this a hot debate both in court, and in the community.

Kate Duffy - WCAX News

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