Archive for the ‘Editor’s Blog’ Category
As you will read on our homepage, we are now entering a new phase in our struggle to preserve the quality of life in Franklin County, Vermont.
It is our hope that our experiences here will serve to educate other communities that are similarly being targeted for large-scale retail sprawl. We therefore are issuing an open invitation to grassroots groups in those other communities to share their stories with us for posting on our own homepage, together with updates on the impact of the St. Albans Walmart location.
Stay tuned. We aren’t going anywhere.
To those of you who have been following our story, we feel we owe you a timely update. Even though it is now three months after the Supreme Court ruling that upheld the permit, there is still no activity at the site. The story we’re getting is that the projected opening date for the store has been pushed to much later than originally projected. Now the developer says he “hopes” to open the store in March of 2013.
We remain extremely skeptical of Walmart’s commitment to the project, bearing in mind that as the permit now stands, the store will be significantly different in scale from anything Walmart is currently looking to occupy; and that only 10,000-sq. ft. of sales area can be devoted to grocery items, with gas sales prohibited.
Gas and groceries are the big profit sectors for Walmart now, and any store that does not provide maximum opportunity for those sales seems unlikely to be occupied by Walmart for long if at all.
Still we take nothing for granted and are actively seeking to persuade the Northwest Regional Planning Commission to monitor the impacts of the new Walmart store, if and when it is finally located here. We hope that, in so doing, our experience with location of the first big box store in our rural community may serve as an information resource for other communities facing similar challenges, all over the state and the country.
On June 2, 2010, on behalf of the NWCRG, Marie Frey and Hudak Farm, the VNRC notified the Vermont Supreme Court of their intention to appeal Judge Durkin’s Environmental Court decision. Here follows the content of the VNRC press release with regard to the Appeal:
“MONTPELIER — The Vermont Natural Resources Council (VNRC) and other parties have filed legal paperwork challenging an Environmental Court decision that approves the construction of a new Wal-Mart store in the town of St Albans.
Joining VNRC in filing the appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court was a local group known as Northwest Citizens for Responsible Growth (NWCRG) and nearby farmers Marie Frey and Richard Hudak. All were granted party status in the Act 250 process and participated in the Environmental Court hearings.
The parties believe that the Environmental Court made several factual errors in the decision that led to faulty conclusions about the impact of the proposed Wal-Mart on neighboring farms.
For example, the Court erred in initially finding that the Hudak Farm is located only in Swanton. In fact the Hudak Farm has 69 acres in the Town of St Albans. Although the Court later corrected the factual errors, the Court reached the flawed conclusion that the applicant Wal-Mart need not focus on the compatibility of the proposed Wal-Mart with the Hudak Farm. The Town of St Albans Subdivision Bylaws requires that an applicant prove that a project is compatible with adjacent uses – especially agriculture. The applicant did not analyze the compatibility of the proposed Wal-Mart with the adjacent Hudak Farm. The applicant has the burden of proof to satisfy the town bylaws.
“The Court has overlooked the obligation of the applicant to demonstrate that it will not jeopardize the existence of well-established local farm operations,” according to VNRC’s Deputy Director Steve Holmes
The parties also contend that conflicts of interest in the permit process have contaminated the proceedings to such an extent that a fair review on the merits of the project is impossible.
There are also several areas in the decision in which the Court has not reached findings and conclusions or in which the conclusions are not supported by the findings. The decision is in error with respect to impact on agricultural soils, secondary growth, character of the area, and public investment.
The parties believe that legal doctrine precludes the building of the Wal-Mart in the same location at the size proposed. A smaller Wal-Mart store of 100,000 sq ft was proposed for the same site in the 1990s and was denied in part because of impacts on surrounding communities.
The proposed store would be the largest in Vermont at 146,755 square feet, or about the size of three football fields. It is proposed for Route 7 near exit 20 off I-89.
VNRC and NWCRG have consistently advocated for a smaller store in downtown St. Albans.
“If Wal-Mart had decided to build a 75,000 square foot store in the city, folks could have been shopping there for several years,” said Holmes. “It makes economic sense, both from the consumer’s and the retailer’s perspective, to centrally locate future stores where more people can get to them without having to get in their cars, ” he added.
The Vermont Natural Resources Council is an independent, nonprofit research, education, and advocacy organization founded in 1963 to protect Vermont’s environment, economy, and quality of life. Nearly 6,000 households, businesses, and organizations support VNRC’s mission.”
On February 1, 2010 VNRC filed a Motion to Alter the January 20, 2010 Environmental Court decision on the consolidated appeals related to the St Albans Wal-Mart.
The Motion to Alter was filed with Environmental Court.
VNRC filed the Motion on behalf of VNRC, Northwest Citizens for Responsible Growth, Marie Frey and Richard Hudak (owners of Hudak Farm.)
We believe there are several factual errors in the decision that led to faulty conclusions about the impact on Hudak Farm.
The finding that the Hudak Farm is located only in Swanton is in error. In fact, the Hudak Farm is located in St Albans Town (69 acres) and Swanton (89 acres)
The finding that the Hudak Farm and the proposed Wal-Mart are separated by Stevens Brook is in error. In fact, Hudak Farm is not entirely separated from the project by Stevens Brook..
The finding that the Hudak Farm is located in a different municipal zoning district is in error. In fact, part of the Hudak Farm and part of the proposed Wal-Mart lie in the same Commercial zoning district.
The Court erred in finding that no agricultural operations are adjacent to or are likely to be adversely impacted by the proposed project. The Court’s intermingling of the terms “adjoining” (touching or bordering) and “adjacent” (not distant or nearby) is inaccurate and appears to be a factor that contributes to the Court’s errant conclusion that the applicant Wal-Mart need not focus on the compatibility of the proposed Wal-Mart with the Hudak Farm. The Town of St Albans Subdivision Bylaws require that an applicant prove that a project is compatible with adjacent uses – especially agriculture. The applicant did not analyze the compatibility of the proposed Wal-Mart with the adjacent Hudak Farm. The applicant has the burden of proof to satisfy the town bylaws.
Regardless of any other issue, the fate of the Hudak Farm is likely at stake.
The Environmental Court must get the record straight on the impacts on Hudak Farm.
January 21, 2010 – Today, we learned that Judge Durkin has ruled in favor of the JLD Walmart project. We have not had an opportunity to review the decision, but this seems like a good time to provide more details on our concept for an appropriate use of the farm fields in question.
An appropriate use would keep the land available for food production. An ideal use would achieve this goal while bringing tangible benefit to the property owner (JL Davis) and to the surrounding community. We have a suggestion that could achieve both goals in a surprisingly creative way.
One of the best ways to bring high-quality economic activity to any community is to locate a new educational facility there. Such a facility would not only provide good quality jobs on site; but it would have the added benefit of attracting smaller secondary businesses to the community to serve the facility’s students and workforce.
Sustainable agriculture is shaping-up to be one of the hottest concerns of the new century. Viable agricultural lands may be viewed as expendable by some sectors of the Vermont community, but elsewhere in the country and around the world, agricultural land is golden, offering the highest potential future return for investment of any property. Permanently disabling prime agricultural land by paving over it is not only irresponsible; it represents very poor long-term investment management.
Now, we just happen to have a public university here in Vermont that already has a recognized agricultural college among it’s educational assets. UVM operates a number of agricultural extension facilities beyond the Burlington campus; and Mr. Davis has already demonstrated his generosity toward UVM by endowing the school with the Dudley H. Davis Student Center. Wouldn’t it be nice if Mr. Davis would donate the undeveloped land he now owns near Exit 20 of I-89 to the University of Vermont for the purpose of creating a sustainable agriculture research farm? This facility could represent the cutting edge of twenty-first century agricultural investigation with all the accompanying investment and acclaim such a bold new program could bring to UVM. The facility could incorporate community gardens, state-of-the-art community compost facilities, and ag-educational modules for high school and grade school students to serve the greater St. Albans population. Our kids would learn to be proud of their rural heritage and the valuable role sustainable food production plays in the health and prosperity of a forward- thinking nation.
If JL Davis donates the property for this purpose, where would the funding come from for all the rest? Well, that’s where I see Walmart playing a role. This would be a golden opportunity for the corporate giant to put their money where their mouth is and endow something that is truly green and human-scale. The publicity they could gain from such an endowment would be tremendous. Turning over a new leaf, they could then choose to locate a smaller general merchandise store in downtown St. Albans, and JLD Properties would develop both the downtown store and the ag-educational facility at Exit 20. Visitors and students would come from all over, engendering a host of new small businesses in the area. Owners of property adjacent to the burgeoning new model farm might look to ag tourism, specialty farming and other related rural industries to keep their land viable for food production.
The City and Town of St. Albans would benefit, the county would benefit, Mr. Davis would benefit, UVM would benefit…and even Walmart would benefit in the end.
This is just one example of how creative thinking can keep this farm-land viable while realizing the greater economic goals of the community and allowing entrepreneurs to profit as well.
January 8, 2010
Happy New Year! We are very pleased to be able to report that Lowe’s has withdrawn it’s application for a St. Albans Town Permit. The retail giant has given no reason, but we cannot help but think it had something to do with the successful for interested petition for interested party status that was apparently filed by ten Town residents. We do not know who comprised this ten. As you will recall, our own petition for interested party status was rejected by the Town. We still believe that the Town’s decision on our petition was not in accordance with the law, but the issue was never tested because of Lowe’s withdrawal.
At this time, we are still awaiting a decision from Judge Durkin of the Environmental Court with regard to the Act 250 Appeals.
As a cold-snap envelopes our little corner of Vermont, and the New Year looms around the corner, we are pleased to report that no decision has yet been released by Judge Durkin concerning our appeals with regard to the Act 250 permit of the JLD Properties Walmart project in St. Albans. We appreciate the time Judge Durkin is taking to consider all of the evidence in this in this landmark case. Developer Jeff Davis, who reportedly lives on vast and untroubled acreage in Underhill, submitted his annual letter of complaint to the St. Albans Messenger; but we have grown weary of responding with the obvious suggestion that Mr. Davis and Walmart could easily have ended the stand-off many years ago by simply proposing to locate the store on a previously developed urban lot and reducing the size to something that would not threaten our local economy.
On a different front, the St. Albans Town Development Review Board hearing with regard to an application to build a 140,000-sq. ft. Lowe’s store near the proposed Walmart, has once again been postponed at the request of the developers. Apart from the petition by the NWCRG for interested party status that was rejected by the DRB , we are told that there is a second and successful petition for status by a different group that is now on file with the DRB. This is heartening news to us, although we still maintain that the NWCRG’s petition for status was improperly denied. We are told that the next hearing will now take place only after January.
We know that there has been a lot of speculation as to what role the NWCRG might take in opposing the proposed Lowe’s that is currently before the Town Development Review Board. We have, in fact, filed a petition for Interested Party Status with the DRB which has been rejected. Nonetheless, we do intend to be vocal in our opposition to the project which would present all of the negative impacts of the Walmart that we are opposing. Besides those negatives, the Lowe’s carries an additional threat to wetlands. If the intent of Vermont’s environmental law is strictly upheld, this project should be denied a permit. We encourage everyone who values our local economy and the treasure of our natural environment to make their voices heard in opposition to this project. There will be a hearing this coming Thursday , November 19, at the St. Albans Town Hall @ 7:00 PM, which is expected to focus on traffic impacts of the proposed Lowe’s. If you already think driving North on Rte. 7 is a nightmare, you won’t want to miss this hearing!
November 11, 2009
As Veterans Day dawns, it is perhaps fitting that we reflect on the nearly six years that the NWCRG has so far devoted to challenging the St. Albans Walmart project. The landmarks of this effort are already chronicled here in the pages of this website; but less has been recorded about the personal toll this kind of long-term struggle takes on the individuals and families that make up our hardworking grassroots group. Though we span the generations, many of our longest serving and most vocal members are in their seventies and eighties, living on fixed incomes of limited means and struggling with health issues. These are difficult times for everyone, and several of our younger members have had the added burden of employment and economic issues added to their load. More than two years ago now, we lost our founder, Sen. John Finn, following a long and debilitating illness. It is in his memory that we created an award to honor those who distinguish themselves in work that promotes sustainable local economies and environmentally responsible development.
Today, I just want to say how much we appreciate all of our members for their vision and for their personal sacrifices.
New policies at Wal-Mart, regarding pay ranges and wage caps, will significantly worsen the quality of life for millions of Wal-Mart employees. Here at home, the projected economic impact of a proposed 160,000-sq. ft. Wal-Mart must be re-configured to reflect these changes. According to the New York Times, Wal-Mart is moving to decrease the overall number of “full-time” associates and increase the number of part-timers; possibly up to 40% of the work-force. It is also requiring workers to be available to work irregular hours, according to the individual needs of the stores. This new policy is intended to protect the competitive edge Wal-mart now enjoys over its largest competitors by further reducing its costs in terms of labor. Wall Street may welcome this news, but it is dismal indeed for the average Wal-Mart employee who already labors on the lowest rung of compensation, often depending on state-assistance to supplement her meager income. These are people who may be working two, three or even more jobs in order to support a family. How will this be possible when a 24-hour Wal-Mart demands that they come into work whenever the store requires their presence? As the nations largest employer by far, what Wal-mart adopts as human resource policy ultimately influences the practices of all the other major retailers. What will this do to family life among low-income wage earners. The Times told of a 67-year-old female Wal-Mart “associate” who, after 22 years with the company was earning $11. an hour as a greeter. When she was told that she would now have to make herself available anytime it suited the store day or night, she requested that she be allowed to remain on the day shift. Her manager reduced her weekly hours from 32 to just 8. She believes she was being forced out to save on her salary (which is high for a Wal-Mart associate) and health care. As we look at the possible establishment of Wal-Mart as the principal retail employer in Franklin County and Grand Isle, we must consider the implications of these new measures to further tighten the corporate belt on labor. Proponents of the St. Albans plan for a Wal-Mart have insisted that, despite the triple-digit job loss they anticipate would result in Franklin County due to the size of the proposed Wal-Mart, the economic impact would not be “significant.” Wal-Mart’s new staffing policy will most certainly worsen that economic impact on Franklin County, creating a new force of under-employed and under-compensated community members who must turn to the state for help, and will be unable to contribute to the tax-base that must support that assistance. At what point will this negative impact finally be deemed “significant” and worthy of consideration?-S