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Tilton requests that Walmart expansion reflect small-town living

June 30, 2010
TILTON — Walmart's plans to give its Tilton store a "shot in the arm" were criticized by the Planning Board, which asked the retail chain's representative to come back with architectural plans that better reflect small-town living.

Eighteen months ago architects for Walmart came before the Zoning Board of Adjustment with plans to expand its facility off Sherwood Drive. Last Tuesday they were back to meet with the Planning Board for a site review of plans to add 33,000 square feet to their store.

Peter Imse from the law firm of Sulloway & Hollis lead the presentation but brought along a panel of experts on architectural designs, traffic engineering and other areas involved in the expansion.

Imse said Walmart was aware the Tilton store was in need of a "shot in the arm" and plans for a nationwide revamp in Walmart's outward appearance were beginning with stores like the one in Tilton to present a cleaner, more modern image. Imse noted the proposal to enlarge the store would also bring more jobs to Tilton.

"This would mean an additional 85 jobs in the area where we already employ 156 people," Imse said.

He added that Walmart is also an active part of the community, supporting many local organizations by contributing $3.6 million in the state last year.

"This year to date we have already donated over $3,500 in Tilton alone," Imse said.

Civil Engineer Steve DeCoursey from Bohler Engineering said the store would be changing from private to town water but drainage plans would not be affected. The expansion would mean changes in the parking lot however, decreasing the lot from 802 to 707 vehicles spaces. Loss of some of these spaces would be due to a 12-foot wide perpendicular island in the center of the parking lot where trees and shrubbery would be planted, as requested in 2008 by the ZBA, which asked for a greener, safer parking lot at the store.

Traffic engineer Jason Plourde said the island would be installed to prevent vehicles from crossing diagonally across the lot as drivers made their way to the front of the store and back to the exit on Market Drive.

"We'll also be creating a new entrance off Sherwood Drive to alleviate heavier traffic using the entrance right in front of the store off Sherwood," he said.

Architect Jim Gallagher of PB2 Architecture said the façade of the building would have soft earth tones with an arched roofline over the new entrance for Pharmacy and Groceries and a second for Home and Living purchases.

"It will be an overall better looking building," Gallagher said.

Planning Board member Sarah Paratore said she was aware many large corporations like Walmart have been able to produce alternate plans in other towns to better reflect the surrounding community. The "big box" stores at Exit 20 were initially not asked to produce such designs but Paratore said the current board would like to "change the tide" when the opportunity to do so arises.

"We'd like to see a plan (for the exterior) that would better reflect the small town Tilton is. Do you have one tucked away in a drawer somewhere?" she asked.

Gallagher said Walmart did not have other plans but would be happy to work with the community to "bring it closer to where you want to be."

He assured her they could return with alternate exterior plans for the board to examine but Walmart did want to keep a basic overall design whose silhouette would be recognizable across the country.

Chairman Michael Curley commended the team for the greener designs in the parking area, but other concerns were raised about the practice of keeping manure and lawn products outside, which they asked to be placed inside to avoid drainage into the ground water. The board also asked Walmart to seek approval from the Sewer Commission for additional drains and any grease traps that may be located inside the new addition.

Tilton's new zoning ordinance prohibits parking lot lights to be on after 11 p.m. and Walmart is open at this time of year until midnight. While they are currently grandfathered from that ordinance, proposals to change their lighting will require a variance for the lights to remain on after 11 p.m.

Board member Domenic Canzano said the board would not want to place people in jeopardy with a darkened lot but a variance should be obtained once the lighting is changed.

Board members also questioned if the expansion would mean a 24-hour store in the future for Walmart and Chris Buchanan, senior manager of public affairs for Walmart, said while there are no immediate plans to be open 24 hours, he would not rule it out for the future.

Imse requested a continuance of the evening's site plan hearing for one month to allow them the opportunity to meet with the ZBA before seeking a final ruling from the Planning Board.

"We'll be back to respond to your questions and do what we need to do in the meantime," he said.

The next meeting for the Planning Board is scheduled for July 27 at 6:30 p.m.

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