Vt. high court clears the way for St. Albans Walmart
St. Albans, Vermont - August 5, 2011
A big win for Walmart in St. Albans Friday.
Vermont's environmental court handed down a ruling in favor of the store last winter, but opponents appealed the decision to the state's Supreme Court with concern over bias and environmental impacts.
Now, the 18-year battle has come to a close. The high court issued its 12-page decision Friday, and it all came down to the final word: approved.
The battle started back in 1993. Developers have been eyeing a field on Route 7 just south of the Swanton-St. Albans line for a Walmart, encouraging economic development. But environmental agencies voiced other concerns.
Those against said opening a Walmart in the space would lead to an overgrowth in commercial development. The court pointed out over 50 stores have opened in this area, without the store.
Opponents also argued that it would put other discount stores out of business. The court said since the argument began, the Ames, Ben Franklin and Woolworth's stores have all closed down.
Another concern was stress on the sewer system and a surge in population. The court said the numbers in schools have gone down since the proposal was sent in.
"The Vermont Supreme Court is the end of the road. We intend to build the store," developer Jeff Davis said. "We have some preliminary work to do on Stevens Brook. So there is preliminary work before Walmart can get it, but we will do that very soon."
"We understand the folks in St. Albans want access to consumer goods. We have advocated for a store in a different location, a store that is better scaled to the community, not one that we think will have an economic impact on small businesses in the area. Our preference would have been a smaller store downtown, we would have endorsed that," said Brian Shupe of the Vermont Natural Resources Council.
WCAX News talked to local shoppers to get their reaction to the long, drawn-out decision.
Development has sprung up along Route 7 since the store was first proposed, and the downtown just a few miles down the road is also thriving. And those still not sold on the idea of the Walmart say their main concern with this kind of store is what it will do to the local mom and pop shops, but others argue they are in dire need of the discount retailer.
"It is 30 miles to do that kind of shopping around here. It will be nice to have closer to home shopping," said Penny of St. Albans, who didn't give her last name.
"It is going to be the death of our community. Give us a few years of Walmart here and downtown will be faded to nothing," said Vanessa Madden of Sheldon.
Opponents can still ask the Supreme Court to reconsider their decision, but developers say they see it as a green light to get started on a 147,000-square-foot store. No date has been set for a groundbreaking but they told WCAX News they plan to have the store open by the end of 2012.