Walmart hearings: Residents worried about increased traffic


walmart giselle web

Giselle Seymour, who spent almost a decade gathering signatures to encourage Walmart to come to Derby, celebrates with developer Jeff Davis at Tuesday night’s Act 250 hearing. Photo by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle June 18, 2014

by Joseph Gresser

DERBY — As determined by the ballot and by anecdotal evidence, a large percentage of Derby residents favor the new Walmart Super Center slated for construction on Route 5.  But that doesn’t mean some don’t have serious reservations about the project.

Those reservations, particularly ones concerning how the 160,000-square-foot store will affect traffic and the economy of the town were well aired in a pair of hearings held at the Derby Municipal Building Monday and Tuesday.

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In Derby: Walmart could open in 2014



Burlington-based developer Jeff Davis points to a drawing of a proposed Walmart Tuesday during a ceremony to announce the project. Many local and state officials attended to celebrate the long-sought big box store including, from left to right, state Senator John Rodgers, Lawrence Miller, secretary of the state Agency of Commerce and Community Development (nearly hidden), Derby Selectman Beula Jean Shattuck, Derby Selectman Stephen Gendreau, state Representative Loren Shaw, and Derby Selectman Brian Smith. Photo by Joseph Gresser

 by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle 1-16-2013

DERBY —  “Since Ames closed five years or so ago my vocabulary has consisted of two four-letter words — when and soon,” said Brian Smith, chairman of the Derby Selectmen, Tuesday.  “Now is a good word to use.”

He was speaking a crowd gathered in a field just off Route 5 where, if all goes smoothly, a Walmart might open its doors in the fall of 2014.

The crowd included many local residents and a sizeable array of state legislators along with Governor Peter Shumlin.

All were there to cheer the announcement that after eight years of off and on discussion, Walmart, the Arkansas-based retail giant, plans to build an almost 150,000-square-foot Supercenter in the Northeast Kingdom.

The mood was upbeat.  There were protestors on hand, but their signs were meant for the Governor and supported a wind tower moratorium.

Mr. Shumlin, though, was focused on the new store, which he said would complement other development planned for the Northeast Kingdom.

He pointed out Gisele Seymour, one of the project’s biggest supporters.  “Gisele gathered more signatures for the project than there are live people in the Kingdom,” he joked of her petition drive.

“This is how we create jobs,” Mr. Shumlin said.  He said the project “fits into a mosaic of thousands of jobs for Kingdom kids.”

Mr. Shumlin crowed that the Derby store would be a victory over New Hampshire, to which many Kingdom residents have traveled to shop for years.

“New Hampshire loses revenue.  New Hampshire loses a few jobs and we gained them.  It’s about time we got smart,” he declared.

Developer Jeff Davis built a Walmart in Williston and has begun construction, after a long battle with opponents, on one in St. Albans.  He acted as master of ceremonies.  He said that Mr. Shumlin had worked with him on the project but was not a “rubber stamp.”

He said the Governor asked questions about the size of the store and the possibility of putting it in Newport instead of on the Newport-Derby Road.  Mr. Davis said that a study conducted to determine the feasibility of a proposal to build the store in Newport floated by the Preservation Trust of Vermont (PTV), was conducted at the behest of the Governor.

The study determined that the PTV proposal to build a multi-story Walmart on Main Street in Newport was not economically sound.

Mr. Davis introduced and thanked Senator Bobby Starr for his longstanding support along with former Senator Vince Illuzzi, who missed the event.

Newport Mayor Paul Monette came in for special praise for his support of the project, as did Mr. Smith.  “He’s a household word at my house and my office.  He’s called and called and called,” Mr. Davis said.

Alexandra Serra, who is from the public relations department of Walmart’s New England office, said the new store will mean 300 more Walmart jobs in Vermont.  She said the company will also increase its charitable contributions in the state, which, she said, currently amount to $500,000 a year.

Ms. Serra confirmed reports of a new policy by Walmart to offer jobs to any veteran who left the service with an honorable discharge in the past year.

She said that the new store will definitely include a grocery department with fresh food, but otherwise said plans for what departments the new store will include have yet to be finished.

After the brief ceremony, which attracted media attention from around the state, Mr. Davis discussed some of the details of the project.

The plans for the store, displayed on both sides of the podium, Mr. Davis said are just preliminary drawings.  The actual plans will not be drawn up until Walmart has decided what it needs.

Mr. Davis said Walmart originally wanted to have a 180,000-to-190,000-square-foot store, but scaled it back at his request.

He said that Tuesday’s announcement marks only the beginning of the process.  Before the permitting process can get underway Mr. Davis said, there will need to be studies about the project’s effects on the local economy, traffic and air quality as well as storm water and sewer studies.

Once those studies are complete, he said, he will draw up plans and begin the Act 250 and Derby town planning process.  He will also start negotiating with local leaders about impact fees.

Agreements drawn up with Derby and Newport and ratified by wide margins in balloting in each town commit both communities to support Walmart in the permitting process.

They also promise to provide funds to the towns to mitigate any untoward impacts the project may have.  Newport is to get at least $600,000 over six years.  Derby’s payments will be negotiated, Mr. Davis said.

There are still potential hurdles, Mr. Davis said, including the possibility that people may try to block the store.

Mr. Davis said, “This is a developer’s risk project.”  If Walmart decides it will take too long or cost too much to build in Derby they can still back out.

Being at risk is no change for Mr. Davis.  He bought the property between Route 5 and Shattuck Hill Road for about $1-million eight years ago.  Last year he added more land to the parcel, investing another $600,000.  He still has enough property to build several smaller stores near the Walmart, although Mr. Davis said he currently has no plans for the land.

contact Joseph Gresser at [email protected]

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In Derby: Morin appointed clerk at heated meeting

Left to right are: Selectman Laura Dolgin, Selectman Beula-Jean Shattuck, Selectman Brian Smith, Selectman Stephen Gendreau, and Selectman Karen Jenne. Photo by Joseph Gresser (taken in May 2011)

copyright the Chronicle 10-10-12

by Joseph Gresser

DERBY — At a contentious meeting on Thursday, October 4, Derby selectmen voted to appoint Fay Morin interim town clerk and treasurer.  But town voters will go to the polls, probably in December and again on Town Meeting Day in March, to have their say on who should hold those offices.

The meeting at which the vote was taken was actually a continuation of the one that began on Monday, October 1.  That meeting was recessed for three days after the four selectmen present could not come to an agreement on filling the positions.

Selectman Laura Dolgin was not present for the October 1 meeting, but she was there to cast the deciding vote on October 4.

The vote to make Ms. Morin clerk and treasurer filled vacancies in Derby’s town government caused by the resignation of Nicole Daigle, who held both offices for 19 years.

Ms. Daigle took another job this summer, but offered to continue to serve in an unpaid supervisory capacity until Town Meeting Day.  She made the offer in executive session at the selectmen’s July 9 meeting, according to board chairman Brian Smith and Selectman Stephen Gendreau.

Both men said that Ms. Daigle asked the four selectmen who were present (Selectman Karen Jenne was not at that meeting) whether she ought to appoint an assistant clerk and treasurer to keep the office running until Town Meeting, or if the selectmen wanted to make the appointment.

Mr. Smith and Mr. Gendreau said the selectmen said Ms. Daigle, as town clerk and treasurer, should go ahead and fill the position.  Ms. Daigle named Ms. Morin assistant clerk and assistant treasurer after that meeting.

After some selectmen and members of the public objected to Ms. Daigle’s action at the following selectmen’s meeting, Ms. Daigle said she would resign immediately.  She was persuaded to stay on for a time, and agreed to hold the position until the end of September.

The interim appointments will be of short duration.  Mr. Smith said a petition calling for a special Town Meeting to fill the two positions until March had enough signatures to be valid.  The petition was presented to the selectmen on October 1 by Vicky Farrand-Lewis.

Mr. Smith said the selectmen will meet on October 15 to set a date for the vote.  Because Derby elects town officials by Australian ballot, the vote is unlikely to be held before December, Mr. Smith said.

Whatever the result of the balloting, it is questionable whether it will diminish the anger that was evident both between selectmen and among the 40 or so members of the public who attended the Thursday meeting.

Ms. Jenne said, “I did not attend the meeting on July 9, but I believe there was a violation of the open meeting law.”

“I disagree completely,” Ms. Dolgin shot back.

“It says in the minutes that no action was taken, but a hiring decision was made,” Ms. Jenne said.

“No action was taken by the select board and I am correct on that,” said Mr. Smith.

Ms. Dolgin read from a sheet of paper two Vermont laws that, she said, clearly authorized Ms. Daigle to appoint an assistant and required the selectmen to name a replacement for Ms. Daigle when her resignation became effective.

“You are the clerk of Derby Line,” Ms. Dolgin said to Ms. Jenne, “I’d think you would know this.”

A portion of those attending the meeting applauded Ms. Dolgin’s remark.

When Mr. Smith called for a vote Mr. Gendreau and Ms. Dolgin said they were in favor of appointing Ms. Morin, while Selectman Beula-Jean Shattuck and Ms. Jenne abstained, as they did at the October 1 meeting.  That left the question up to the chairman, Mr. Smith, but only after a long argument about whether to abstain from voting is to vote “No.”

Ms. Dolgin, who takes minutes at selectmen’s meetings, pressed both Ms. Shattuck and Ms. Jenne to explain their reasons for abstaining.  Ms. Shattuck at first refused to do more than say “that’s how I feel.”

Eventually, though, she told Ms. Dolgin that she believed the process leading up to the appointment of Ms. Morin was improper.

Ms. Dolgin then turned to Ms. Jenne, suggesting that she had a conflict of interest in the question because she is considering running for the two offices.

Ms. Jenne said she didn’t see what one thing had to do with another.

When Ms. Dolgin again asked her to explain her reasons for abstaining, Ms. Shattuck said, “There have been things that have been underhanded and I don’t like it.  I’m not going along with it.  It’s not an argument between us.”

Ms. Dolgin again asked for clarification.

Ms. Shattuck said, “Just keep talking — you’re burying yourself.  You’re not a lawyer — you think you are, but you’re not.”

A number of those present expressed their approval of Ms. Shattuck’s remark with applause.

Ms. Dolgin told Ms. Shattuck and Ms. Jenne that her minutes would show them as casting votes against Ms. Morin.

A chorus of protest arose from Ms. Shattuck, Ms. Jenne and many of those who gathered to observe the meeting.

Some appealed to Mr. Smith to prevent Ms. Dolgin from using the minutes in such a fashion.  Ms. Farrand-Lewis said that Ms. Dolgin should be required to write exactly what had been said at the meeting without inserting her opinions.

Mr. Smith ruled that Ms. Dolgin could write whatever she wanted, but that minutes would be reviewed and voted on at the next meeting.

Mr. Smith then cast his vote for appointing Ms. Morin interim clerk and treasurer, creating a majority in favor.

Mr. Gendreau then moved to adjourn the meeting.  A chorus of protest was heard from members of the public who demanded to be heard.

“We have an opportunity to speak according to open meeting law,” Ms. Farrand-Lewis said.  “We have the right.”

“We had discussion Monday night,” Mr. Smith responded, saying that the October 4 session was a continuation of the same meeting.

“In government the ultimate boss is the public.  You have the onus of responsibility to respond to the public,” Ms. Farrand-Lewis said.

“Your concerns will be addressed with the secretary of state in the morning,” Mr. Smith said.

“No, they won’t, they’ll be addressed with the Attorney General, because there was a violation of the open meeting law,” Ms. Farrand-Lewis shot back.

“We’ll discuss that and make sure everything is done correctly,” Mr. Smith said.

“What a kangaroo court you hold, Mr. Smith,” Ms. Farrand-Lewis replied.

As Mr. Smith called for a vote on the motion to adjourn, Ms. Farrand-Lewis said, “What a laughing stock.  You people are disgusting.”

That her opinion was not shared by all in attendance was shown by the round of applause given the board at the end of the meeting.

There were enough people who shared Ms. Farrand-Lewis’ views to ensure that the parking lot of the Derby municipal building was the scene of heated discussion long after the meeting’s end.

contact Joseph Gresser at [email protected]

For more free articles from the Chronicle like this one, see our Editor’s Picks pages. For all the Chronicle’s stories, pick up a print copy or subscribe, either for print or digital editions.