After discussing the issue for more than three hours Monday night, the Manchester Planning and Zoning Commission again decided to table any action on Walmart's request to .
The commission did however unanimously vote to approve Walmart's erosion and sediment control plan and its request for an inland wetlands permit, inching the development closer to fruition, but elected to table the chain retail giant's request for the special exception needed to construct the new store at 205 Spencer St.
If approved, the new store would be built on the site of the former Kmart on Spencer Street near the East Hartford townline. The former Kmart building had been vacant for years before the current owner, Gatewa Lauren Inc., demolished it earlier this year. Walmart has an agreement to purchase the 20.8 acre property from Gateway Lauren Inc. and construct a new 158,430 square foot building on the property. Its application states that the Pep Boys and Ocean State Job Lot that currently occupy the same plaza on Spencer Street would remain as its tenants. If approved, it would be Walmart's second location in Manchester, as the retail giant currently has a store located at 420 Buckland Hills Dr. near the Shoppes at Buckland Hills mall that is in the process of being expanded into a supercenter itself.
A plaza across the street from the proposed Spencer Street location houses a ShopRite and a number of other small businesses, and many of the residents who turned out Monday night to voice their opposition to the proposal cited concerns that Walmart's presence in the area would harm many of those businesses.
"Somewhere along the line we have to stand up to huge corporations," said Dan Moran. "…I'm against it because to me it would just hurt a lot of businesses."
While Catherine Oliver said that she worried that if Walmart were allowed to open a second store in town, it might cause the Buckland Hills Drive location to close, which would just lead to another large, empty retail store in town.
"There can't be enough customers to keep two Walmart's going," Oliver said. "Are we just trading one empty box for another?"
John Knuff, Walmart's attorney, said building on the Spencer Street location was an example of "smart growth" as outlined in the town's plan of conservation and development by utilizing an area that had previously supported a similar large retail store.
Knuff said that Walmart had no plans to close its Buckland Hills Drive location either.
"Walmart is absolutely committed to that store," Knuff said. "They will serve different markets and two stores will remain. There is no likelihood that the Buckland store will close."
Residents also cited increased traffic and congestion in the area as another concern brought about by the new store.
Walmart's traffic engineers said that, although the development would increase traffic to the area, it would not be unmanageable and would not result in a major uptick because many people currently utilized stores in that area anyway, and would likely fold a trip to Walmart into planned excursions to those existing stores. Although traffic engineers employed by attorneys opposing the development said that Walmart was not factoring in all potential traffic caused by a new store and that traffic problems could be a greater concern than the retailer was planning for.
The Planning and Zoning Commission elected to close the public hearing on the proposal, meaning that no more testimony or public comments on the proposed new store can be heard, although the commission did not indicate if it intended to rule on Walmart's proposal as part of its next scheduled meeting, Jan 7.