“In pursuit of cheaper stuff, Vermonters need to be especially careful not to overload their winding roads and covered bridges, not to ruin their green rolling landscapes and not to empty out their small historic downtowns. More than a quarter of the state’s income comes from tourism, and nobody’s going to mail home a postcard of Wal-Mart.”
Dear Friends of Responsible Land-use and Local Economies,
November 15, 2012 – St. Albans, VT.
Now that JLD Properties’ has held its Walmart ground-breaking, we would like to use this opportunity to say that we are confident that Walmart will want to take every measure necessary to ensure that the St. Albans store will be the most ethically operated Walmart in history; that its workers will have nothing but positive employment experiences, and will be free to organize; that the store will not engage in predatory marketing schemes; that the historic St. Albans downtown will remain a vital community marketplace; that the emerging importance of our working landscape will not be damaged; and that none of the negative impacts that have occurred in other communities when Walmart came to town will happen here.
We are certain of this because Walmart will know that we are watching; and we will continue watching and sharing our experiences, nationwide, through an extensive grassroots network of concerned citizen groups, with other communities who are being targeted by the retail giant. St. Albans has become a national stage on which Walmart should want to perform conspicuously above reproach. We have the opportunity to share these experiences more broadly than has ever been done before.
Furthermore, the developer, JL Davis will know that we are watching to see that every assertion he made in the permit process holds up. These include promises regarding quality job creation, traffic, viability of local retail and other important measures of community well-being; as well as the absence of “secondary growth” pressures beyond what existed at the time that Walmart received its permit. In our opinion, Mr. Davis’ assertions in the permit process become Walmart’s obligations to Franklin County as a whole, once the giant retailer occupies his store.
We recognize that enforcement mechanisms within the permit system are woefully inadequate; so we will not rely on official action to address broken promises. Should we be disappointed in our expectations, and should any of the assertions made by Mr. Davis and Walmart over the course of the permit process prove in reality to have been untrue, we are prepared to hold Walmart accountable through organized market action.
It is with regret that we have to tell you that the Supreme Court of Vermont has returned a decision in favor of the JLD Properties St. Albans Walmart.
As it is written, the decision reflects a disregard for citizen access within the local permit process, not to mention for the validity of that process itself.
The judges acknowledged the egregious nature of conflicts of interest that occurred in the local permit process, which is the only level at which ordinary citizens may participate without devoting considerable resources to the effort. By ruling that those conflicts of interest do not matter because of the “de novo” nature of the Environmental Court hearing, they are saying essentially that the local permit is meaningless.
We sincerely hope for the best possible outcome for our communities, and we trust that the careful scrutiny that we will apply to Mr. Davis’ St. Albans Walmart, both during the construction phase and throughout its operation, will serve to ensure that this will be the most scrupulously operated Walmart store in history, and that none of the issues of traffic congestion, secondary growth, store closings, and environmental degradation that we fear will be allowed to ensue.
Please feel free to contact us for updates on the unfolding Walmart story in our community; and look for bulletins on this site. We would like to offer our experiences to other communities facing similar challenges, so that they may have the benefit of a fully-documented community transformation record, from the first shovel-full to the inevitable closure and post-development blight.
What’s really at stake, you ask?
Disappearance of prime agricultural soils. The areas in St. Albans Town and Swanton that have been designated for large-scale retail development have some of the highest concentrations of prime agricultural soils in Vermont. The only other remaining area where concentrations are similar is around Bennington. Developers love to locate their projects on prime agricultural soils because they yield most readily to excavation. Of course, this means the permanent loss of the area to agriculture. It is shameful and outright folly to continue to allow the degradation of Vermont’s principal economic resource to satisfy the short-term interests of a few developers and unimaginative administrators. Our economic future lies in our ability to exploit the cache that Vermont has in quality food marketing. Which brings me to our second point:
Food Security. Recent events should serve as cautionary tales for anyone doubting the necessity of protecting local lands for their eventual use to feed local populations. Not only is the cost of transporting our food over hundreds or thousands of miles in danger of becoming cost-prohibitive due to fuel cost pressures; but we can no longer ignore the fact that, by freely outsourcing our food production and passing it through so many hands before it reaches our tables, we are courting disaster in terms of food safety and availability.
Traffic. If we allow these mushrooms of sprawl at the Interstate exits in Franklin County, we will see worse traffic problems than they have in Williston. Rte. 104 doesn’t have the capacity for this kind of load. It will turn a pretty nice rural drive into a polluted crawl through disappearing countryside. Bear in mind that, when the developer applied to the DRB to permit his large scale project at Exit 19, he maintained that his prime ag soils were “no longer farmable” due to the traffic! The DRB apparently agreed with this reasoning, as they issued the permit, despite our objections; but when the same argument had been raised by Hudak Farms in objecting to the Wal-mart proposal three-tenths of a mile from their organic farm, the DRB chose to ignore their plight and permit the project! V-Trans has raised serious concerns about the state of Rte. 104. even without considering the proposed development at Exit 19.
Aesthetics. Is this really what we want to be the gateway to Franklin County…a sea of concrete and big box retailers? How many tourists are going to find that attractive? Next Vermont grown and raised foods, tourism is our biggest business. Is the best future we can conceive of for Franklin County to be a retail quick-stop?
Degradation of the air, the watershed and natural environment in general.
Local Economy. The pressures that big box retailers can place on small local businesses will cause many to close with no opportunity for new local retailers to start-up in the community. The end result will be an overall decline in the tax base as increasing services are required to accommodate the “drive-through” traffic generated by national chains who are not invested in the community.
Please take this opportunity to contribute to the ongoing work we are doing to preserve a valuable way of life and the precious resources that we have here in Franklin County.
Northwest Citizens for Responsible Growth
P.O. Box 750
St. Albans, Vermont 05478