An eight year battle over the expansion of the Walmart in Bennington has reached a settlement.
"I would hate to see another supermarket or Walmart bakery that comes in and tempts people away with inexpensive prices," said Natasha Littrell, who owns a small bakery in downtown Bennington. She said she worries about the planned expansion of the Walmart in town.
After an eight year legal battles, the Vermont Natural Resources Council and Citizens for Greater Bennington have agreed on a settlement with the big box retailer that will double the size of the current store to a 112,000 square foot Superstore.
The decision is making some Bennington shoppers, like Bruce Labonte, very pleased. "Absolutely fine -- it would be great. Like I said, you can do all your shopping in one stop," he said.
In order to move forward with the project, Walmart will pay for $200,000 in local improvements and an additional $25,000 to help restore the Walloomsac River watershed. Although no decisions have been made on where the money will go, some hope it will fund a bike path through the town. "It would give benefit to a really large cross-section of our community because people from one end of Bennington to the other would be utilizing this path and benefiting from it, so they would get a lot of bang for their buck," said Joann Erenhouse, with the Bennington Chamber of Commerce.
Erenhouse said she recognizes concerns that Walmart is a threat to small businesses, but hopes a project like the bike path can help make up for potential losses. "I think that if Walmart is able to give some money to these programs it is going to facilitate everybody's business, because if the kids are up in North Bennington and the bike trail enables them to pedal downtown -- my god -- the Oldcastle Theater will benefit," she said.
Natasha Littrell said she is not convinced and worries how small businesses will survive. "It feels like a drop in the bucket. There are lots of exciting projects that we are trying to do downtown and on Main Street revitalizing buildings and bringing new businesses in. And $200,000... to me is not enough to make an impact," she said.
An Act 250 permit appeal filed by the owners of the Mt. Anthony Country Club is still pending. There will be conference April 18th to discuss concerns from the Country Club regarding noise and water quality.
Walmart officials said they have not set a construction date.