Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Walmart expansion in Buckland area wins approval

By David Huck
Journal Inquirer
Published: Tuesday, September 20, 2011 12:27 PM EDT

MANCHESTER — The Planning and Zoning Commission on Monday approved Walmart’s plan to expand into a “superstore.”

Commission members had concerns about increased traffic in an already congested area but learned that Connecticut Transit is working to establish a new bus stop at the store on Buckland Hills Drive. A bus stop shelter and a designated drop-off area will be built in the parking lot.

The plan includes renovating the 121,565-square-foot building into a 148,578-square-foot “discount superstore” that will include a full-size grocery section with produce, meats, a bakery, and a deli counter.

According to a traffic study, 17,800 vehicles pass each Friday westbound on Buckland Hills Drive. On Saturday that number increases to 20,600 vehicles.

The traffic engineer hired by Walmart said Monday that the traffic levels will stay about the same after the grocery store opens. At the recommendation of town staff, vehicles will be prohibited from turning left out of the Walmart driveway onto Buckland Hills Drive where there is no traffic signal.

Between 2006 and 2008, 31 accidents were recorded at that driveway, the study found.

“Walmart has a business model. To say that traffic won’t change — I’m not buying that,” commission member Kevin Dougan said. “You’ve got to be generating more traffic to generate more sales.”

Board alternate Susan Shanbaum noted that the Walmart will now become the primary grocery store for residents in that section of town.

A lawyer representing the company, said the grocery component gives “existing customers another opportunity” to buy products.

“I still think the traffic is going to be worse rather than better,” Dougan said.

Last month, the commission, which also acts as the town’s inland wetlands commission, determined that the expansion will not significantly impact a narrow patch of wetlands near the rear of the building. Several large trees will be removed as part of the renovations.

About one acre of new asphalt will be added to the site to accommodate new loading docks and larger parking spaces, though the number will be reduced from 713 to 670.

Officials also said the façade of the building will be updated in a new color scheme and the parking lot lights will be replaced with energy-efficient LEDs.

The store at 420 Buckland Hills Drive was constructed in 1995 on 16.39 acres.

Company spokesman William Wertz has said the Manchester store currently employs 200 workers. He said the expansion would create around 85 additional jobs.

Officials said construction will be phased in to keep the store open during the expansion.

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