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2000-04-13
Keene, NH. 15 Year Battle Against Sprawl

The residents of Keene, New Hampshire have never been too keen on the idea of a superstore on prime agricultural land. For more than a decade and a half, citizens in Keene have fought off a Connecticut developer who has tried to put a Wal-Mart, and now a Home Depot on what once was a simple cornfield. For all that time, the superstore concept has just been a field of dreams for the Konover Development company. In 1998, after five years of wrangling, the local newspapers announced that a proposed 200,000 s.f. Wal-Mart store was "hung up on wetlands" issues. The state Department of Environmental Services said Wal-Mart's plans failed state wetlands regulations. Today, there is no Wal-Mart at the corner of Routes 9,10,12 and 101. However Konover has simply changed the logos. Now they are pushing a Home Depot store, a Borders Books, a Linens N' Things and a restaurant on the 64 acre field. The Home Depot would be 134,000 s.f., and the other retailers push the total development to nearly 200,000 s.f. Once again, the issue has come down to wetlands. The parcel in question was zoned commercial in 1982, despite the fact that it contains acres of valuable farm land, and natural wetlands. According to the Concord Monitor, the developer is asking the state for permission to dredge and fill 69,010 s.f. of wetlands, and replace them with a manmade wetlands elsewhere. A group called Concerned Cheshire Citizens brought people out to the hearing, arguing that natural wetlands can't really be replaced. "Wetlands have underground connections with the acquifer that can't be reestablished," said one local forester. "You can't recreate the hydrological recharge function. If you continue to pave and seal off these recharge areas, where is water and rain going to go, especially in a weather event?" Residents says the site lies close to an underground water source, but the developer says their plan does not endanger the underground water source, or the well that is located just west of the site. Konover's own consultant admitted that part of the Home Depot project falls within an area that town studies show needs the most protection from water pollution. The developer says that Home Depot will not be allowed to have outdoor displays of pesticides or fertilizers, and therefore does not "pose a risk" to local water supplies. But the state agency which turned down the Wal-Mart phase of this project, now has given the public 30 more days to comment on the wetlands request before acting on the permit.

What you can do: I recall sitting in on the first Wal-Mart hearing before the Keene Planning Board back in 1993 -- and the troops in Keene are still battling to push over Konover. They stopped Wal-Mart, but now face an even greater threat to their water supply. Home Depot stores thousands of gallons of hazardous materials under one roof, and the company has had at least 2 multi-million fires involving stored chemicals (see Home Towns, Not Home Depot article on this website). In Merrimack, NH, (see below) town officials asked Home Depot to build a small retaining wall all around the store to stop any chemical release, so residents are becoming increasingly sensitive to the contents inside the store, not just in outdoor displays. So one of the longest sprawl battles continues in Keene, as the town struggles to maintain its small town identity. For further information about the Concerned Cheshire Citizens, contact info@sprawl-busters.com.










 
 
"Norman has become the guru of the anti-Wal-Mart movement" ~ 60 Minutes

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