10-24-13 – St. Albans Walmart

by John McClaughry

Two weeks ago the new 146,000 square foot WalMart opened in St. Albans town. Thus concluded twenty years of outrageous and expensive environmental regulation that was not only nutty but also illegal.

The selectboard of the town of St. Albans zoned for a commercial development back in 1982. It issued a zoning permit to WalMart. The Act 250 district commission approved WalMart, with some reasonable conditions, like WalMart paying for water and sewer extensions.

Then the environmental coalition, led by the Vermont Natural Resources Council, appealed to the Environmental Board which in those days heard permit appeals. Anti-growth Former Senator Arthur Gibb then chaired the Board. He produced perhaps the most bizarre opinion that board ever issued, denying the WalMart permit.

The legislature had adopted some findings in 1973, at then-Senator Gibb’s urging, but over his objection the law  specified that these “findings” were not to be used as permit criteria. In 1994 Gibb, by then Environmental Board Chairman applied them anyway – completely contrary to the law – to defeat WalMart.

Gibb’s Board denied the permit among other things on the grounds that an expected six children would be added to local schools, which would require building a new school. The Board objected to WalMart being under one roof, instead of having half a dozen separate stores between which customers could march in the snow.

Art Gibb has gone to his reward, but finally the people of Franklin county have received theirs. Congratulations to them, and to developer Jeff Davis.

John McClaughry is the founder and current vice-president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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The Ethan Allen Institute is Vermont’s free-market public policy research and education organization. Founded in 1993, we are one of fifty-plus similar but independent state-level, public policy organizations around the country which exchange ideas and information through the State Policy Network.
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