Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
PZC to consider Wal-Mart application tonight

By Robert J. Cyr
Journal Inquirer
March 11, 2008

SOUTH WINDSOR - A third application from a developer hoping to put up a massive retail center is expected to be approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission tonight.

Although there's no official branding for the project - none is required for an application to build - town officials know Wal-Mart still is poised to set up shop, Planning Director Marcia Banach said Monday.

It's the same package the PZC received twice before - when Downeast Associates Limited Partnership spoke of erecting a 357,000-square-foot project on 56 acres near Pleasant Valley Road, then withdrew the application shortly after.

But now, the developer, twice fearing the project would be denied by the commission, is making a third, and possibly final, attempt at finishing its plans.

"After tonight, the clock starts ticking," Banach said. "We all know it's not the finished plan, but, I think, this is the last application of this sort. No one involved with this wants to waste anyone else's time."

And no one - especially town planners - wants to see a set of conspicuous super stores that doesn't fit the aesthetic norm of other businesses, Town Manager Matthew Galligan said.

"We're just not going to accept a square box building. It would have to be attractive in its design," he said. "If Wal-Mart is really doing that well, they really need to start sprucing up their buildings - especially if they want to be a part of the community."

But dressing up a Wal-Mart like a small-town boutique is no quick fix for a development of this scale. There are other factors that come with the expected thousands of customers, such as increased traffic, safety issues, and environmental concerns, Galligan said.

The developer first applied last spring while the town was thick into the process of changing the zoning on the piece of land slated for the build, Banach said.

The idea was - and still is - to switch the designation of the land from "design commercial" to "gateway zone" use, essentially creating a grid of Buckland Hills mall-inspired development.

"The gateway status is where everyone wants to head," Banach said. "We're very happy with Buckland. Evergreen Walk is another example of that kind of aesthetic. We approved that without knowing exactly what businesses would be in there."

The emerging project has been controversial since its outset, largely due to the Wal-Mart already standing in Manchester less than two miles from the proposed store.

Galligan estimates the business could mean as much as $1 million a year in tax revenue.

If the application passes tonight, the developer has 65 days to finalize its plans while the PZC sets a date for a public hearing. Those time frames, however, most likely will be extended, Banach said.

©Journal Inquirer 2008