Wal-Mart is engaged in a game of retail musical chairs in Connecticut. The Hartford Courant newspaper reported yesterday that Wal-Mart plans to close a discount store it opened in 1992 in Manchester, Connecticut, and replace it just down the road with a supercenter in South Windsor. The Wal-Mart store on Buckland Hills Drive in Manchester has a garden center, a pharmacy, a photo center, a portrait studio and a vision center. It was only built 15 years ago — but that’s a lifetime for Wal-Mart, which has systematically shut down hundreds of discount stores to make way for larger, and more profitable, supercenters. There are 10 Wal-Mart stores within 20 miles of the Manchester Wal-Mart, but only one of them is a supercenter. The new store Wal-Mart wants to build on Pleasant Valley Road would include a 200,000 s.f. supercenter, and a Sam’s Club. The location sits right on the South Windsor-Manchester town line. The owner of the parcel Wal-Mart wants is the Simon Property Group, which describes itself as “the largest public U.S. real estate company.” Simon operates regional malls, Premium Outlet Centers, The Mills, community/lifestyle centers and international properties. It currently owns 379 properties comprising 256 million square feet of gross leasable area in North America, Europe and Asia. The Company is headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana and employs more than 5,000 people worldwide. As usual, Wal-Mart remains silent on this game of musical chairs. “We do not have any confirmed plans, either to build a new store or club in South Windsor or to relocate the existing Sam’s or Wal-Mart,” a Wal-Mart spokesman said, noting that the company is reviewing a number of sites in the area. But last spring Simon tipped its hand when it filed an application for a 195,912 s.f. building with a 11,123 s.f.garden center, for a total of 207,035 s.f.. The mall would also contain three 50,000 s.f. buildings. Simon apparently filed its plans in a rush, when it became known that the South Windsor planning and zoning commission was seeking to change the property’s zoning from “designed commercial” to “Buckland Road Gateway Development Zone.” The Gateway zone limits grocery store uses to 22,000 s.f., which would make a Wal-Mart superstore over the limit. Wal-Mart superstores typically have grocery components that are 40 to 45% of the floor space. Because of Simon’s protest to the zone change, South Windsor officials stopped processing the Gateway Zone. Simon Properties is now working on a revised proposal for the site, that will add a Sam’s Club instead of the three 50,000 s.f. stores. This site that Wal-Mart has chosen was actually under consideration by the retailer as part of the Winchester Mall project in the 1980s. The legal challenges killed that proposal, and now Wal-Mart is back roughly 20 years later with a bigger store. Simon Property also has seen defeat in the South Windsor area, when the town rejected a strip mall on a 92 acre site that straddled Manchester and South Windsor. A strip mall was eventually built, but only on the Manchester side of the line.
The Courant says that neighbors of the proposed Wal-Mart development have hired South Windsor lawyer Hal Cummings to represent them in this big box battle. “The people that I’m working with are not looking to block or prevent or oppose what we all understand to be a lawful, permitted use on the property,” the lawyer told the newspaper.
“We’ve had 25 years of woods and bushes. My folks are developing a list of issues having to do with lighting, landscaping, a noise buffer.” Even though Wal-Mart has refused to confirm their plans, the neighbor’s lawyer knows it’s a Wal-Mart by the size of the footprint. “I would be willing to bet $10 to a penny that it would be a Wal-Mart project,” Cummings said. “No one builds 200,000-s.f. stores, like the one shown in the plans, other than Wal-Mart.” But if all neighbors expect to get out of this is a noise buffer and lighting that doesn’t spill over onto their properties, they are going to end up on the losing end of this deal. Readers are urged to email South Windsor’s Mayor, Matthew Streeter, at: [email protected], with this message: “Mr. Mayor, you campaigned on the promise “to preserve the town’s quality of life.” As a lifelong South Windsor resident, you know how incompatible this huge project will be with the rest of South Windsor. In your most recent Citizen’s Survey, 88% of residents said that preserving open space land is important. In terms of Economic Development, the focus was on the Evergreen Walk project — not a huge big box mall. The town should proceed with the Gateway zone, and not just do what ‘Simon Says’. If you open a Wal-Mart in South Windsor, the one in Manchester closes. Where’s the gain to the community?”