If at first your Wal-Mart proposal doesn’t succeed — try, try again. On March 18, 2007, just about a year ago, Sprawl-Busters reported that in response to a rejection by the Groton, Connecticut Planning Commission of a 200,000 s.f. Wal-Mart superstore on 30 acres of land in a water resource protection district, the Konover Development company was prepared to sue the town. Wal-Mart already has a discount store on Route 184 in Groton, which would be closed if a new one is built. The Commission voted 4-1 in February, 2007, to reject the plan. The Planning Commission cited nine reasons for rejection, including inadequate storm-water management, and the handling of hazardous materials. The town’s planner told the Associated Press it was “the most involved project we’ve ever seen this close to a water supply.” At the time, Konover said it was disappointed by the decision, and foreshadowed litigation when they charged that the Planning Commission exceeded its authority. The developer was considering an appeal, a Wal-Mart spokesman said. Several Planning Commission members said the application failed to meet town regulations. Two weeks after the rejection, a lawyer from Konover told the AP that his firm was, in fact, suing the town. Konover complained that the town’s planners were asking the developer to “do more than the regulations requires,” according to the news service. Now, with their lawsuit about to reach the court, Konover is trying again. The Day newspaper says that Konover has submitted a “new” application to both the town’s Inland Wetlands Agency and the Planning Commission. The application is basically the same as their first proposal, except for minor changes in storm drainage and other details. A group called the Groton Open Space Association (GOSA) has opposed the store, raising concerns about increased traffic and environmental impacts. The timing for this nearly-identical refilling is not just coincidental. Konover’s appeal is slated to come before the New London Superior Court on April 8th. Once the case has been heard, it could take the judge three or four months to issue a decision. Konover says they have every right to submit their plan again, without any major changes to it. The developer says its stormwater drainage plans keep the runoff going into wetlands the same as before the project is built. But submitting these plans again gives town officials a back door way out of a trial that will raise the town’s legal bills. The implication from Konover is: take a second look, and maybe we can both avoid a trial.
The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the second application on April 9th — at the insistence of residents of Groton, who submitted a petition to the Commission. “We feel the changes are not much different from the plan that was rejected,” GOSA member Joan Smith told The Day. The group says that stormwater from the site “still ends up at Hempstead Brook, and the reservoir.” GOSA says the Planning Commission needs to view whole application again, not just the changes. If the Commission approves this second plan, the court case becomes moot, but by the time the town boards review the plan, the court review will likely be over. Konover says if it wins in court, the case will come back to the town for review. If they lose their appeal in court, Konover then just turns to its second application. But the town has its options also. The town’s residents would best be served by rejecting Konover’s plans again, and ruling that the same basic plan was unacceptable in 2007, and is unacceptable in 2008. If the court rules in favor of the town, it is unlikely that Konover would have any grounds to litigate again. The company could appeal the Superior Court decision, but is not likely to prevail at that point. Groton has nothing to lose by rejecting this second plan, and waiting for the court’s decision. The worst that could happen is that they have to reconsider the developer’s plans. But it is very likely that the court will not want to substitute its judgment for that of the town’s Commission, unless that decision was arbitrary or capricious. Konover is playing games with the town of Groton, and would do better to lower its legal profile, and pay more attention to what the town wants, not what it can be bullied into doing. Readers are urged to contact the Groton Planning Commission Chairman James R. Sherrard by emailing the town clerk at [email protected] with the following message: “Chairman Sherrard, I urge you to reject Konover’s 2nd attempt to flloat a Wal-Mart supercenter into your water protection district. It appears that the second time around, Konover has made little change from the first time. Given the fact that their court appeal is pending, this amounts to little more than harassment on their part, and attempt to intimidate the Commission. Let the court appeal play out. Whether you reject this huge Wal-Mart once, or twice, Konover has already gone the litigation route, and won’t sue twice — especially if they lose in court. The environmental concerns are still there, no matter how many times Konover becomes a repeat offender. I urge you to stick by the environmental science on this, and leave the political games to Konover.”