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Walmart and Tilton board to discuss new vision for Exit 20 store

August 04, 2010
TILTON — On July 22 representatives of Walmart were back before the Tilton Planning Board with updates to the site plan they had presented in June, when they were asked to obtain lighting and signage variances, perform a water study on drainage and come back with an exterior design that would better reflect the small town.

Attorney Peter Imsey of Sulloway and Hollis informed the board that the Zoning Board of Adjustment granted Walmart a variance to have their parking lot lights on beyond 11 p.m. Since the store is open until midnight the ZBA agreed it was a safety issue for shoppers and employees. Signs to exceed the town maximum two-foot by two-foot size, which would direct shoppers and truckers through a newly designed parking lot, were also given the green light by the ZBA in the interest of public safety.

Traffic studies, as explained by Traffic Engineer Jason Plourde, showed the expansion would mean an increase of approximately 149 cars per hour, lower than projections in a study Market Basket had sought, which found the expansion would mean 207 more cars traveling on Market Drive.

"The reality is it could be even lower than that actually," Plourde said.

Selectman Pat Consentino was at the hearing and said traffic is a big concern with residents of Tilton. Consentino told Plourde and the other Walmart representatives that she is approached by five or six people every day who feel traffic along the entrance road to Northway Bank, Walmart and Market Basket is already too congested. Selectman Katherine Dawson agreed and said travel through the area has become worse as more vehicles are traveling through the Route 3 corridor. What once was a three-minute trip through Exit 20 into downtown she said now takes her 20 minutes. Dawson also asked about security for the store as well since increased traffic and the possibility of the store remaining open 24 hours a day would mean a potential increase in police and medical activity for accidents, thefts and other public safety matters. Dawson read from a list the number of arrests, medical calls and the expense of each to Tilton taxpayers.

"The cost to taxpayers is huge when a business expands. We can't take much more of the burden," she said.

Resident Stephen Foster suggested Walmart and Market Basket create a drive between the parking lots for those shopping in both stores, alleviating the number of cars going back onto Market Drive to access them both.

"It would free up some of the traffic and make life a little easier," Foster said.

Walmart representatives took the suggestions under advisement. Engineer Steve Lacoursey said cameras would be installed in the parking lots if the store did go to a 24 hour opening. He said he had also approached Police Chief Robert Cormier who, Lacoursey said, felt there would not be a big increase in activity. He further advised the team could return with a more complete traffic study to address the matter of congestion at peak hours of the day.

Imsey asked if the board would agree to form a subcommittee to sit down with architects and discuss alternate designs for the façade of the building. Through that subcommitee they hoped to get a better idea of what the town would like to see, something difficult to determine in the limited time available at that night's board meeting.

"Our goal is to find something that will keep both Walmart and the town happy," he said.

The board said they would not form a specific subcommittee to meet with architects but could meet with them as a full board on a second, regularly scheduled date for monthly meetings they currently do not use.

Communications with Christopher Buchanan, Walmart's vice president of Public Affairs, failed to clarify whether the national chain has ever altered the façade of their stores in other towns across the country. Buchanan would only say they were looking forward to working with the Tilton Planning Board on the matter.

"We have recently recommitted ourselves to offering our customers a consistent and recognizable brand identity. Walmart continues to work with communities like Tilton to address architectural concerns while maintaining our commitment to Walmart's important brand identity," he wrote in an response to the Echo.

The meeting between the board and architects has been set for Aug. 10.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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