Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Wal-Mart interested in South Windsor site

By Matthew Engelhardt and Kimberly Phillips
Journal Inquirer
December 31, 2007

SOUTH WINDSOR - Town Manager Matthew B. Galligan confirmed Monday that he has met with representatives interested in building a Wal-Mart and a Sam's Club near Pleasant Valley Road, just over the town's border with Manchester.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. officials couldn't be reached Monday for comment regarding plans for the stores - or what the new stores might mean for Sam's Club and Wal-Mart already located in the Buckland Hills mall area.

Galligan said the Simon Property Group has been working with Wal-Mart to bring a new store to the vicinity of Wheeler Street and Smith Street, near the Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Store. He said representatives first contacted him in 2007 about bringing a Wal-Mart to town.

Downeast Associates Limited Partnership, which is owned by the Simon Property Group, in May submitted a general plan of development to the Planning Department for a 357,035-square-foot retail development on approximately 56 acres.

Lawyer Christopher J. Smith of Shipman & Goodman in Hartford submitted the application on behalf of Downeast. Smith couldn't be reached Monday for comment.

The plan, titled "South Windsor Towne Plaza, Phase I & Phase II" called for the development to be built near Pleasant Valley Road.

The plaza would be very close to both South Windsor's Evergreen Walk development and Manchester's Plaza at Buckland Hills.

Galligan said the plan called for a new Wal-Mart to be built in the proposed plaza and he and Town Planner Marcia Banach both disapproved of the proposal at its inception. Banach couldn't be reached for comment.

Galligan said he understood Wal-Mart's interest in a South Windsor store. However, he wasn't interested in adding a big-box retailer to the community - at least not the proposed design.

Also, Galligan was concerned over the appearance that Wal-Mart would be leaving its current location in Manchester in order to build a new store in a neighboring town.

"I'm not in the business of stealing from other communities," Galligan said, adding that Wal-Mart representatives have initiated all discussions about a store.

Downeast withdrew its application in October before presenting a new general plan in the same month.

Galligan expects that plan also to be withdrawn, as representatives have contacted him regarding other possibilities.

Galligan said Wal-Mart still is interested in building on the same property, but would now present three separate stores: a Wal-Mart, a Sam's Club, and one retailer yet to be determined.

The stores would have to be aesthetically pleasing and match the architecture and design of other recent South Windsor retail developments, Galligan said. Otherwise, he will not support the plan.

The developer also must establish a buffer zone to separate the site from nearby residences.

The town manager expects the current plan to be withdrawn and then a new one submitted to match South Windsor's specifications.

"If they're really serious they have to come in with a new plan," Galligan said.

Galligan said discussions call for an approximately 180,000- to 190,000-square-foot store, but he doesn't consider it to be a "supercenter."

South Windsor won't offer any abatement or other tax incentives to bring a Wal-Mart to town, Galligan said. He added that the town didn't offer abatements to Evergreen Walk when that development began its plans.

Galligan estimated the Wal-Mart alone would bring in approximately $1 million in annual tax revenue, plus $500,000 for the Sam's Club.

Still, he said he would only support a development that matches the strong demands of the community. As of Monday, Wal-Mart representatives hadn't contacted Galligan after a recent meeting.

To date, the Planning and Zoning Commission hasn't discussed or taken action on any of the plans.

Environmental Planner Jeffrey H. Folger said the PZC isn't scheduled to discuss plans for the stores within the next few months.

Folger said environmental concerns would have to be addressed, including the impact on local wetlands and endangered birds that live on the property.

Galligan estimated it would take approximately two years to complete construction after approval by the commission members.

Plans for the current stores?

Questions would remain about what Wal-Mart intends to do with its Manchester locations for both Wal-Mart and Sam's Club.

The Wal-Mart on 420 Buckland Hills Drive is located 1.78 miles from the proposed site on Pleasant Valley Road in South Windsor.

"There's been a lot of talk and rumors about Wal-Mart relocating," Manchester Planning and Economic Development Director Mark Pellegrini said Monday. "It's a bit of conjecture, but it's been widely tossed about."

Pellegrini said he couldn't confirm the veracity of the claim that the longtime store is leaving town, but said it's no secret the company is locating supercenters nationwide. "It's part of the corporate strategy to do this."

In recent years, he said, minor improvements have been made to both the Wal-Mart and the Sam's Club on Pavilions Drive, including the addition of a roof over the garden center at Wal-Mart and painting at Sam's Club.

And while that might be indicative of the company's intention to continue to occupy the buildings, the work has been minor, Pellegrini said, and is comparable to a homeowner painting his or her house but still being open to a move in the future.

In 2006, speculation insisted that the vacant part of the Manchester Parkade off Broad Street was slated to become a Wal-Mart. However, officials for the Arkansas-based company said it had no such plans.

"In terms of any plans for Manchester, we don't have any publicly announced plans," company spokesman Chris Buchanan said then.

Yet, the square footage of the general merchandise store that was included in the zoning application that was filed in 2007 mirrored Wal-Mart's own specifications. The application later was pulled because of a dispute with an adjacent property owner regarding an access road.

Nevertheless, the developer and property owner, FNM Manchester LLC, said in the application that it planned to demolish the Parkade's existing buildings and construct a 168,634-square-foot concrete block building in their place. Some 740 parking spaces would be located on the 17.2 acres.

Town officials have said developers told them in 2006 the outfit would be a big-box style store that offered general merchandise, grocery, and lawn and garden departments.

According to Wal-Mart's Web site, its supercenters are on average 185,000 square feet with approximately 142,000 sale items in various departments, including those that town officials noted.

In recent years, Wal-Mart has tried unsuccessfully to locate a supercenter in nearby communities, namely Vernon and Stafford.

Vernon's Inland Wetlands Commission quashed Wal-Mart's plans in 2004 after three months of meetings to reach a decision that pleased many residents, some of whom belonged to Rockville Concerned Citizens for Responsible Development. That group represented about 100 families upset that a supercenter was planned for their community.

Wal-Mart had planned to build an 186,000-square-foot store with 859 parking spaces on 41.7 acres off Route 31, behind a Burger King restaurant.

Plans in Stafford were more fluid, as Wal-Mart became the commonly known tenant for a parcel at the intersection of West Stafford and Monson roads, opposite a Dunkin' Donuts.

The company never filed a formal application, but town officials said developers told them the company planned to build a 150,000-square-foot supercenter.

About the time a moratorium was set to expire in 2006 suspending applications on developments exceeding 30,000 square feet, Stafford's Planning and Zoning Commission passed a zoning amendment that limits businesses to 40,000 square feet.

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