Good things come to those who wait. But patience is wearing thin in some quarters of Plymouth, New Hampshire, the town where Wal-Mart just can’t seem to build its superstore. More than two years ago, we reported (see 9/9/98 newsflash) that the local newspaper and Chamber of Commerce could hardly restrain their enthusiasm for having a superstore come to town. Now, 28 months later, not only is there no Wal-Mart in sight, but the company is embroiled in a legal fight with the landowner, and was forced to get a year’s extension from the town. Pliant local officials, still dreaming of unsubstantiated job gains, granted the extra time. Wal-Mart is waiting for a court date against the landowner, a limited liability company called Heater Road, reportedly a creation of Great Island Development. According to The Citizen, the local paper, Wal-Mart is claiming that Heater Road backed out of a verbal agreement to sell the land to Wal-Mart. A local businessman, Steve Rand, has challenged the town’s extension, arguing that “there is a major inconsistency here, between who owns the land and who is applying here.” Rand notes that an engineering firm from Northampton, MA was authorized to represent the landowers back in 1998, but now have asked for an extension in the name of Wal-Mart. But if Wal-Mart and the landower are in litigation, who is the engineering firm really representing, and are they authorized to act on behalf of the landowner if they represent a party suing the landowner? Rand meanwhile is trying to explain to local officials that Wal-Mart is not “big news” for the community. The local newspaper has editorialized that Wal-Mart will provide a “couple hundred new jobs” (see related stories below about Montgomery Ward, Bradlees, Sears, etc.). The paper also believes that “local business will not only survive, but will thrive due to the increased traffic that Wal-Mart brings into town.” The editorial looked as if it might have been written from a Wal-Mart press packet. The town has no economic impact study to suggest what the net job impact will be, and the killing of regional chain stores in New England, from Bradlees to Caldors, suggests just the opposite is happening. “(Wal-Mart) wants to monopolize this community,” Rand told the media. “I want to keep Plymouth a town that is untouched by the bad stuff that Wal-Mart brings in.”
So far, fortunately, Wal-Mart’s site plan remains untouched. In a letter to the Plymouth Planning Board, Rand asked the town to require “a complete new site plan review”. “It is unfair to other property owners, who wish to pursue plans that are not possible in the face of Wal-Mart, to extend a site plan indefinitely. All developers should be held to the same standards.” Rand says it is inconsistent for the town to assume that Wal-Mart’s interests are the same as the landowner’s, since they are at odds in court. He also notes that the town’s zoning regulations allow a single extension on a site plan, but now Wal-Mart has received a second extension, which would appear to be arbitrary and a display of favoritism. Residents who fought the Wal-Mart store to begin with, are hoping that another two years go by with no more progress on the site. The yaers just seem to slip by.