We reported over the past week-end that Wal-Mart has been stuck for two years in Plymouth, New Hampshire, wrangling with landowners, and today another story of similar content from Connecticut. The Hartford Courant revealed on January 5th. that Wal-Mart has backed out of a proposed 157,000 s.f. supercenter aimed at the town of Colchester, CT. Residents of the community, who had formed a group called Colchester First to battle Wal-Mart, were elated by the news. “It’s great. I”m completely surprised,” said Paul Gayeski, a member of the group. The news story quotes Wal-Mart as saying: “As time passed, the project costs increased to the point where the deal is no longer economically feasible for Wal-Mart to participate.” So Wal-Mart faxed a letter to the town on January 4th. abandoning the project. The deverloper, Ron Lyman, has indicated that he will still try to pursue his shopping center without Wal-Mart. “We ended up terminating our lease agreement with the developer because there were so many contractual items Wal-Mart and Lyman had mutual disagreements on,” said Wal-Mart spokesman Keith Morris. “It’s rare. There really has to be a compelling reason.” Morris admitted that the rising cost of development was due in part to environmental concerns that were raised by local residents — and that would have taken money to solve. “A lot of the work was related more to the overall development rather than just Wal-Mart,” Morris told the Courant. “The cost of development was an issue we couldn’t overcome.” The newspaper then added: “The apologetic letter sent (to the town) was in sharp contrast to the public relations blitz Wal-Mart brought to town in 2000, including mailings, videos, and pro Wal-Mart rallies.” This marks the second loss for developer Ron Lyman, who tried to build a Wal-Mart in Granby, Connecticut, but Wal-Mart dropped out of that project also, in the face of organized citizen opposition from a group called Granby First.
Colchester First understands that the issues Wal-Mart “could not overcome” were issues of environmental impact that citizens brought to the public process. This is not a great time for Wal-Mart in Connecticut, since the Attorney General (see earlier newsflash story) brought a lawsuit against the company for polluting streams around nearly a dozen other stores in the state. Colchester First had hired an expert to measure the damage this store would have had on wetlands in the area. The town’s Zoning Enforcement officer told the paper that “much of the opposition had to do with Wal-Mart and its storage of materials.” And although Wal-Mart says its withdrawal is “rare”, Colchester is the 142nd. community on my list that has defeated a Wal-Mart or other big box store at least once. Granby First and Colchester First are just two recent examples of citizens who slam-dunked Wal-Mart.