Manchester will soon have two Walmarts. After debating the proposal for months, the town's Planning and Zoning Commission voted 4-1 Monday to approve a special exemption that will allow Walmart to on Spencer Street.
The new store, located at 205 Spencer Street, will be built on the site of the former Kmart near the East Hartford townline. Although Walmart's proposal was unpopular with many in the community who objected to a second Walmart in town and said it would harm local businesses, members of the commission said that as an applicant Walmart's proposal appeared to meet all the necessary criteria for a special exemption and there was nothing they could do to deny them the permit. Although the new Walmart will be built on the site of a former large retail store and is located in a commercial zone, it required a special exemption from the PZC based on its size and the number of parking spaces needed.
"Our job is not to control the market forces, our job is to try to adhere to the plan of conversation and development," said Joseph Diminico, chairman of the planning and zoning commission.
The former Kmart building had been vacant for years before the current owner, Gatewa Lauren Inc., demolished it in late 2012. 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 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.
"The redevelopment of that parcel is a very good benefit to the area," said commission Michael Stebe, who conceded that traffic in the area was "going to be a bear" with the new Walmart in place. But Stebe said he thought the benefits Walmart would bring to the Spencer Street area of town far outweighed the negatives.
"Having that parcel grow again will help everybody else around it grow and attract more developers," he said.
Eric Prause was the only member of the commission who opposed the development. Prause said he thought Walmart's proposal was just too big for the area, and noted that it was almost 40,000-square feet more of retail space in the same location than Kmart brought to the area when it was still in business.
"I support the redevelopment there, but once you start exceeding what was there before I question whether this is the right use?" Prause said.
Walmart has not indicated when it plans to break ground on the new Spencer Street location or when it could open.