Groups reach tentative agreement to drop Walmart appeals
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | February 20,2013
BENNINGTON — The plan to replace Walmart in Bennington with a “super store” more than twice the size of the existing store took a step forward last week when a tentative agreement was reached to settle the appeals made against the project by the Vermont Natural Resources Council and a local citizens group.
A stipulation of dismissal submitted to the Vermont Environmental Court on Feb. 13 by Jamey Fidel, general counsel for the Vermont Natural Resources Council, or VNRC. A letter accompanying the stipulation said the appeals were being dropped by the VNRC and the Citizens for a Greater Bennington, a citizens group that had also opposed the project.
The stipulation would dismiss appeals of the project’s local permits, issued in 2006 by the Bennington Development Review Board, and Act 250 permit issued in 2011.
A clerk at the environmental court said on Tuesday that no ruling had been made on the stipulation yet as to whether the judge would accept it or not.
Alan George, a Rutland attorney who represents the applicant in Vermont, said he hoped the court would agree to the stipulation. But he said it was “absolutely” a positive step forward for the proposal.
Because the stipulation isn’t finalized, Brian Shupe, executive director of the VNRC, said he couldn’t discuss the terms but said the agreement had been reached with the cooperation and participation of the citizens group.
The project is still being appealed by the owners of the Mount Anthony Country Club who appealed both the Act 250 permit and a stormwater permit issued by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources. The club’s owners could not be reached on Tuesday.
David Grayck, who represents the club’s owners, David Griffin and Maru Leon-Griffin, said he could only say that the appeals of the Griffins’ “issues of concern” were still pending.
For about seven years, developer Jonathan Levy has been requesting permission to replace the 51,000 square-foot Walmart at the Monument Shopping Plaza with a new, 112,000 square-foot store. During Act 250 hearings, Levy said the proposed new store would be a Walmart super store and include a full grocery store.
Levy, who owns the Monument Shopping Plaza, has requested to tear down the existing store and another 10,000 square-foot of retail space and build a new store that would be set back further from Northside Drive.
While the application is on hold there has been some activity. In December, Levy bought a store within the plaza that used to be a gun store and gas station for $590,000, about twice it’s assessed value.
Shupe said VNRC officials believe they got some valuable gains from the case. In the beginning of the Act 250 hearings, both the VNRC and the citizens group were denied party status.
“Our denial of party status was overturned and the environmental court ruled that moving forward, district (Act 250) commissions should use a relatively low bar in allowing citizens access to the process. In that case, it was a victory,” he said.
VNRC officials wanted the hearing to be sent back to the Act 250 commission so it could begin again with the VNRC and the citizens group as parties but the environmental court rejected the request.
“Realizing this was all going to be very time-consuming, we reached out to Jonathan Levy and said, ‘Listen, we have concerns. Is there any way that our concerns might be addressed without going through the time and expense of litigation?’ He said, ‘It’s worth talking about.’ We sat down and were able to hammer out the agreement over the course of a couple of months,” Shupe said.
The details of the agreement have not been made public yet.