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2009-06-03
Manchester, NH. Wal-Mart Gives City A Deadline, City Gives Wal-Mart A Rezoning

Wal-Mart gave the Aldermen in Manchester, New Hampshire a deadline, and local officials fell in line. The corporation told Manchester officials they wanted 15 acres of land rezoned from industrial to commercial, and they wanted it done by June 30th. City officials ignored the wishes of many neighbors, and last night gave Wal-Mart their rezoning. The Aldermen were not required to rezone land for anyone, but when the corporation asked them to jump, they did. As a result, Wal-Mart will be opening a huge, 190,000 s.f. supercenter, and closing down a nearby discount store. In addition to the existing Wal-Mart discount store on Keller Street in Manchester -- which will close -- there are 3 other Wal-Mart stores within 10 miles of Manchester, including Bedford, Hookset and Derry. The Manchester Union-Leader newspaper reported in late March that Wal-Mart had held private discussions with city officials in Manchester about opening up a supercenter just minutes away from its existing discount store. The new superstore will be located on land on the south side of town on Gold Street. The city's Ward 9 Alderman Michael Garrity, who met with Wal-Mart privately, would not initially identify the size of the superstore that Wal-Mart had in mind. Garrity said Wal-Mart told him that the company would tear down a vacant grocery warehouse on the site, but the Alderman did not mention what would happen to the existing Wal-Mart on Keller Street. "I think Wal-Mart and McDonald's are the few publicly held companies that are making money in this economy," Garrity told the newspaper. The site is located near interstate 293, and is close to the city's largest commercial strip area, the Union-Leader said. Wal-Mart has a purchase-sale agreement on the parcel, but does not own it. That explains the company's rush to get the rezoning done -- so they would not lose their option on the land, or have to pay more to hold it. Wal-Mart mailed a letter to neighbors of the project, telling them that the retailer wanted to build a larger store in Manchester. "The relocated store would follow the model of our new and improved stores, featuring wider aisles and more merchandise, including a full-service grocery store," Wal-Mart wrote. Wider aisles and groceries are the main difference between this superstore and the 107,000 s.f Wal-Mart discount store less than a mile away. The Manchester store on Keller Street has not yet been listed for sale by Wal-Mart, but if the superstore project rolls forward, the Keller Street building will become a 'ghost box.' Wal-Mart already has one dead store in New Hampshire in the town of Hinsdale, that was eclipsed by a superstore one mile away. For a company that likes to talk about sustainability, Wal-Mart has adopted the most wasteful growth strategy in the history of retailing, shutting down stores that can be less than 10 years old, just to build a larger one across the street or down the road. In Manchester, residents on Gold Street and surrounding streets were not pleased with the prospect of thousands of new cars on their small streets. Alderman Garrity told the Union-Leader that Mayor Frank Guinta has been apprised of the Wal-Mart's plan, and asked Garrity to work out any issues with the neighbors. Garrity set up a meeting with 70 or more residents of the neighborhood. Through Garrity, Wal-Mart proposed a makeover of Gold Street that added a traffic light, and put in speed bumps. One neighbor told Garrity, "The majority of the neighbors said the only thing that will work for us is if you dead-end President Road, Sewall and Gold streets so no one will use our street as a short cut. We are not opposing Super Wal-Mart at all, but we do not want the traffic." Last night, they got the traffic. The Board of Alderman vote 8-3 to rezone land on Gold Avenue from industrial to commercial. Neighbors opposed to the project said they felt that streets in the area were too narrow to support this huge store. But Alderman Garrity said Wal-Mart's plan for Gold Street will actually improve the traffic situation on the road, which serves as a shortcut from South Beech Street to South Willow Street. "Are we going to be able to please everybody? Absolutely not," Garrity told the Union-Leader newspaper. "I think this will solve the problem on Gold Street." Ironically, the empty building which will be torn down is the Associated Grocers warehouse, which has become a relic of the grocery wars that have devastated many local and regional grocery stores in New England. Wal-Mart says it will pay for a Gold Street bypass, which would bypass homes on the eastern end of the street. A Wal-Mart spokesman told the media that the Alderman needed to act last night because Wal-Mart had a self-imposed deadline of June 30 to make sure the project could be rezoned. "We're looking forward to working together in partnership with the city," she said. But opponents of the project remained unconvinced. "They're trying to put 10 pounds in a 5-pound bag," one neighbor said. Another neighbor doubted Wal-Mart's plans to slow traffic on upper Gold Street, which includes granite curbs, bumped out sidewalks, and on-street parking. "If we could have wider streets that would lead people to (stores with) wider aisles, we'd have a win-win situation," he mused. The Wal-Mart spokesman said the company heard loud and clear the neighborhood concerns. "We believe their concerns have been addressed, based on what our traffic expert tells us," she said. Alderman Dan O'Neil, who was one of three to vote against the rezoning, told the Union Leader, "I think some of this is premature."

What you can do: Wal-Mart is systematically going through its portfolio of stores in New England, and other regions, and either shutting down or expanding its discount stores. Today in New Hampshire, Wal-Mart operates 11 supercenters and 16 discount stores. The company would like to reverse those numbers as soon as possible. In nearby Hookset, New Hampshire, Wal-Mart will be shutting down its discount store on Route 3 to open up a new superstore a few miles away on Route 3A. The retailer has been struggling in New Hampshire for several years. It had to shrink the Hookset store almost in half, pulled out of superstore plans in Derry and Hillsborough, and lost a rezoning vote in Plaistow by 80%. As in Manchester, the Wal-Mart project in Derry would have placed a superstore close-by an existing Wal-Mart discount store. But the Derry superstore imploded, and Wal-Mart was left with its 114,000 s.f. discount store. Readers are urged to go to the Manchester Mayor's email page on the city website, at: http://www.manchesternh.gov/website/MayorandAldermen/MayorsOffice/ContacttheMayor/tabid/878/Default.aspx and leave this message: "Dear Mayor Guinta, If you count the current Wal-Mart discount store on Keller Street, your city has 4 Wal-Marts within ten miles of Manchester. Wal-Mart wants to replace all those discount stores -- many of which were built in the 1990s, and close them, as they did in Hookset, and as they tried to do in Derry and Plaistow. A number of New Hampshire communities have said 'No' to these frivolous plans to build across the street or down the road from an existing Wal-Mart. Your city, like Hinsdale, New Hampshire, will soon be dealing with an empty Wal-Mart. This superstore does not add value economically to your city, because its sales will largely come from sales at other existing merchants. These 'transferred' sales do not represent economic growth. The hardest hit will be the existing Wal-Mart on Keller Street, which will close. All the change from a discount store to a grocery store in Manchester means is that Wal-Mart will gain more food market share, and a couple of other grocers will close. This is not economic development -- it's economic displacement. The vote this week by the Aldermen to rezone land for one corporation was bad land use policy, and bad economic policy. The only increases you will see from this are in traffic and crime. If you don't get Wal-Mart to pay for the demolition of their 'old' store, it's going to fall on taxpayers to do it. The net change in jobs and property tax revenues will be almost a wash, once you factor in other grocery stores that close. Other states fight over these projects for the sales tax -- but New Hampshire has no sales tax, so all you get is the net change in property value. Manchester is adding to the bottom line of sprawl in the city. Wider aisles, wider roads -- Manchester is on the wide road to nowhere."










 
 
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