For the second time in four years, a Sam’s Club gas station proposal has run out of fuel. Wal-Mart this week scrapped plans to put a gas station in the parking lot of its Sam’s Club in Seabrook, New Hamsphire. The gas station would have been open only to Sam’s Club members. A similar proposal was denied in 2003. Wal-Mart needed a variance for the gas station, because the land their Club now sits on is industrially zoned, and does not allow gas stations. The site is also in an aquifer, and within 100 feet of a wetland. Gas and water don’t mix, and the company’s hearing before the Zoning Board did not go well. The ZBA asked Sam’s to return with more information about traffic, and about the impact of gasoline on the environment. Wal-Mart’s lawyer attempted to argue that now that the additive MTBE was no longer in gas, the proposal was not as environmentally hazardous. Their ZBA hearing went so badly, the company announced this week that instead of appearing a second time before the board, they chose to withdraw the plan instead. Case law in New Hampshire states that once you have been denied a variance, you can’t return unless your plans are significantly different. In this case, all Wal-Mart did was to move the gas station further south on their parking lot. In a July 20 letter sent to the Zoning Board of Adjustment, an attorney for the company gave no reason for the withdrawal. Seabrook has an ordinance that does not allow gas stations to be sited within 1,000 feet of one another, and there is a gas station already located within that distance. So Wal-Mart tried to move their station further away on their large site, but the ordinance measures distance property line to property line, so placement on the site needed a variance for the distance requirement as well. Local residents formed a Committee for the Environmental Protection of Seabrook to oppose the plan, and invited Sprawl-Busters to testify against the gas station in 2003 and 2007. “I hope the protest had something to do with it,” one resident told Seacoast Online after the withdrawal announcement. “I’m ecstatic. I’m glad they’re not going to put the little businesses out of business.”The purpose of this letter is to formally advise you that Sam’s Real Estate Business Trust hereby withdraws both variance applications effective immediately,” said Wal-Mart’s letter to the Seabrook ZBA. Town Manager Scott Dunn announced Sam’s decision at the selectmen’s meeting on Wednesday morning. The ZBA made a brief statement Wednesday night. Officials do not expect Sam’s Club to come back a third time.
Sam’s tried to argue that they needed a gas station to remain competitive in the membership club business. But a 2001 survey conducted by Sprawl-Busters of 1,006 big box retailers owned by 15 different retailers in 6 New England states showed that only 3.6% of these units had gas stations, a total of 36 out of 1,006 locations. At that time, Sam’s had only 1 location out of 14 with a gas station, and Costco only 1 in 11. Stop & Shop had the largest number of gas stations (27) but that represented only 13% of its stores. The placement of gas fueling facilities in the parking lots of Sam’s Club is not a customary use in New England. There are still only 14 Sam’s Clubs in New England today. Only 3 locations (21.6%) in all of New England have gas stations in their parking lot. 11 Sam’s Clubs do not (78.4%). None of these Sam’s stores applied for a gas station when they were first built. In several of these communities, Sam’s applied for a gas station, but local boards denied their request. For a copy of Sprawl-Buster’s testimony, or a 5 minute video of why gas stations in big box parking lots are a bad idea, email [email protected]