On Februrary 12, 2006, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart was having trouble finding land in the small town of Thomaston, Maine. A developer, under public pressure, had dropped hands with Wal-Mart to make their proposal more palatable to local officials.
A developer from Massachusetts publicly stated that he had eliminated Wal-Mart as a potential tenant for his huge, 250,000 s.f. retail development on 30 acres along Route 1. The Richmond Company of Peabody, Massachusetts, had sworn off Wal-Mart, just as the town was set to begin a discussion of whether or not to cap the size of retail buildings in this small, Mid-Coast Maine community.
“We have ceased discussions with Wal-Mart,” a Richmond Company representative told a community forum in January of 2006. But the site plan for the project — which started life as a 350,000 s.f. colossus — still shows a 210,000 s.f. anchor store, which is about as big as Wal-Mart makes them. A 40,000 s.f. store is also proposed, with no identified tenant. Richmond tried to convince townspeople that a big box store would draw customers to downtown businesses on Main Street, despite the fact that no studies have indicated any spin-off effect from one-stop-shopping destinations like Wal-Mart.
Despite Richmond’s No-Wal-Mart Pledge, a group called Our Town Thomaston proposed a 70,000 s.f. cap, which is slightly larger than 1.5 acres of store, while a pro big box group proposed a cap of 150,000 s.f., which is about 3.5 acres, or roughly the size of 3 football fields under one roof. There are less than 1,900 voters in tiny Thomaston, which had already approved a 149,000 s.f. Lowe’s. A representative of the town who sits on the County Commissioners, was outspoken in favor of the larger cap of 150,000 s.f. His son owns the land on which the 149,000 s.f. Lowe’s would be built.
The Thomaston Planning Board actually approved the project in 2007, requiring Richmond to pay for the cost of a new bypass lane and a stoplight. Richmond never completed the project.
Three years passed. Last August, a developer from Portland, Maine, Shapiro Development, told the Bangor Daily News that his company would be applying to Thomaston to build a Wal-Mart superstore at the same location that the Richmond Company had pursued. “We’ve had good positive response from the town and from people in town,” a spokesman for Shapiro said. “I think, over the years, Wal-Mart’s reputation has really changed a lot from what it used to be.” The site is located across the street from the Lowe’s home improvement store.
But the abutting property owner, Dorman’s Dairy Dream, which has selling ice cream for nearly 60 years in that location, is apparently not thrilled with the prospect of Wal-Mart as a next door neighbor. Town officials originally told the ice cream parlor that it would have to move 5 feet to make way for a second entrance into the superstore. In August, a spokesperson for Dorman’s told the Daily News, “I have no idea what we’re going to be doing. Nothing’s in the works right now. I’m not giving up my property.”
Shapiro’s 150,000 s.f. store is located very close to an existing Wal-Mart discount store in Rockland, Maine, which will be closed if the Thomaston store is approved. Shapiro told the newspaper that the Rockland location did not have enough space to allow Wal-Mart to expand it into a superstore. So Thomaston became the favored replacement site.
This week, the big box issue was back in the news. Town officials have officially received a proposal for the 30 acre Yattaw property in Thomaston. According to WLBZ TV, town officials are onboard with the project. But the TV station reprots that negotiations between the world’s largest retailer and the icre cream store had broken down. A new entrance road is being designed to work around Dorman’s, and will require approval by the state’s Department of Transportation, because the site is along state highway Route 1.
The head of the Thomaston Planning Board says she thinks the superstore proposal will be supported in town because the project will allow residents to shop “closer” than the retail stores in Rockland, several long miles away.
An official with the regional chamber of commerce says that Wal-Mart has admitted it will shut down the Rockland Wal-Mart. The market area could not support two Wal-Marts, so the retailer is looking for another tenant to fill its dead space.
The seacoast of Maine has been a Wal-Mart battle ground for years, as the giant retailer tries to saturate the area with stores. Residents in Mid-Coast say the only way to control sprawl is for neighboring communities to adopt a regional approach.
Now that Wal-Mart has constructed several discount stores, it is in the process of shutting down the sites like Rockland that can’t be expanded. Readers are urged to cut and paste this stori and email it to Joanne Richards, Chair of the Thomaston Planning Board at [email protected] with the following message:
“Dear Chairwoman Richards, Route 1 travelers will not appreciate driving through the historic downtown of Thomaston heading north, only to run into a sprawl zone with a Lowe’s and a Wal-Mart. All this project does is shift jobs from the Wal-Mart in Rockland a few miles away to another location.
This project adds no economic value to the area, and will only result in more store closings and lost jobs. Inviting Wal-Mart to Thomaston is like inviting the cannibals to dinner. Your ‘gain’ will be at the expense of Rockland, and residens gain nothing.
You should force the company to reduce the size of the project to 80,000.s.f or less — a superstore size that Wal-Mart is currently building. Better yet: just say no to the plan.”