Developer to pay $220,000 to settle Wal-Mart appeals
BENNINGTON — As part of a settlement to move forward with a new Wal-Mart in Bennington that will be more than twice the size of the current store, the company planning to build the project has agreed to make $220,000 in payments to make local improvements.
In a news release, the Vermont Natural Resources Council announced that the appeals they filed along with a local citizens group, Citizens for a Greater Bennington, have been dropped after reaching a settlement with the applicant, BLS Bennington LC.
The settlement calls for BLS Bennington to pay $200,000 to “support the viability of downtown Bennington,” according to the news release.
A second payment, of $20,000, would help fund projects that would support the Wallloomsac River watershed.
Brian Shupe, executive director of the Vermont Natural Resources Council, or VNRC, said there had been no decision yet about exactly who would get the money or how it would be spent but he said the first payment would promote business vitality downtown.
“It’s not determined who that money’s going to go to. It’s not going to go the VNRC or the citizens group but VNRC and the citizens group will need to determine how that money is spent. It could go to a nonprofit, it could go to set up a streetscape enhancement program. We still need to figure out who that is,” he said.
Shupe said the VNRC would likely consult with the Better Bennington Corp., an agency dedicated to serving the downtown.
Plans submitted by the developer, BLS Bennington, call for the demolition of the existing 51,000 square-foot Wal-Mart at the Monument Shopping Plaza on Northside Drive and the construction of a 112,000 square-foot Wal-Mart “super-store” with a full line of grocery products.
Some, including members of the citizens group, have raised concerns about how the new store would affect the merchants who operate in Bennington’s downtown.
Shupe said the exact use of the $20,000 had not been determined yet either but said the decision, like the one involving the larger payment, would also be made in consultation with Bennington residents.
Officials at the VNRC are likely to look for a local conservation or watershed group to help determine how the money can best be spent, he said.
“We didn’t have the time yet to pick a project or work out all the details,” he said.
The VNRC filed a stipulation of dismissal to the Vermont Environmental Court on Feb. 13 in the case. On Feb. 20, the court accepted the request.
With the appeals dismissed, local permits granted by the town of Bennington a little more than seven years ago are now filed. However, the appeal of the Act 250 permit, issued by the state in 2011, is still pending because of a second appeal filed by the owners of the Mount Anthony Country Club. The club’s owners have also appealed a state-issued storm water permit.
According to Shupe, the case has also set an important precedent because the Vermont Environmental Court overturned a decision by the local Act 250 commission which prevented the VNRC and the citizens group from having party status in the case.
“I can’t emphasize enough the extent to which the citizens were wronged by the (Act 250) district commission and how significant the court decision reversing that decision was. It really reversed not just that one decision but what had become a trend in Act 250 (proceedings that was) whittling away citizens rights.” he said.
Alan George, a Rutland attorney who represents the applicant locally, could not be reached on Tuesday but in February, he said he couldn’t speculate on when the project might start until the outstanding appeal is resolved.
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