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Tilton and Walmart still hashing out new look for expansion

August 18, 2010
TILTON — Walmart representatives and the Tilton Planning Board met again last week to hash out details for a new look at the Exit 20 store, but both sides walked away from the meeting without reaching a consensus.

Walmart approached the Zoning Board of Adjustment and later the Planning Board earlier this spring with plans to expand the existing structure and reconfigure its exterior to go along with new signage and customer recognition measures being put into place across the country. At the July 22 hearing with the Planning Board they were asked to find an alternative exterior design that would better reflect the small New England town of Tilton.

At the workshop last week attorney Peter Imse of Sulloway and Hollis said Walmart had done a significant study of all its stores and was experimenting with a lot of different looks. They acknowledged that the Tilton store was an "old dinosaur" in need of a facelift that could blend in more with the town.

"Our goal and purpose is to introduce you to this new design and explain our limitations to make modifications so we can proceed with this project with everybody in agreement," Imse said.

Architect Jim Gallagher from PB2 revealed a new rendering of the store with a "swooped" roof façade that Walmart is instituting around the country, as well as some other improvements to the exterior that he hoped would meet their approval.

"The problem with this store though is that snow load on the roof limits what we can do with it," he said.

Peaked roofs on Walmart bulding were eliminated in the northern states, he said, to prevent ice and snow from falling on customers. The new arched front would be a look recognized as a Walmart store anywhere in the country.

Sarah Paratore told Gallagher that Old Navy and other stores had peaked roofs to blend with the New England surroundings and could not understand why Walmart could not do the same.

"We want you to change it to look like other buildings around here, where you don't lose your identity but we don't lose Tilton's either," Paratore said.

She said thousands of tourists travel through Tilton and go on to other places like Meredith. Tilton officials would prefer they stop in their town. Paratore said maintaining the appearance of what people expect to see in small town New Hampshire was important not just for aesthetics but for Tilton's financial success and future as well.

Board member Sandy Plessner said they were not asking them to change the existing roof, just its appearance on the front. Chairman Mike Curley pointed out that many buildings in Tilton have false fronts and the board would prefer to see a peaked roof look to the front of the building, which could be done with a façade that would not jeopardize shoppers with sliding snow.

"This design looks more like Manchester than Tilton," he said.

Moving on to other changes he made, Gallagher pointed out his new design included granite around the windows and entrances to the store and said they would use local materials for the work. The board felt that was not enough though and asked to see more.

"Using a little granite, that's okay, but considering the economy using more (local materials) speaks loudly in my mind," said board member Deana Cowan.

Prior to the workshop the board had provided Walmart representatives with drawings of other buildings as examples of architectural styles they would like to see. Gallagher's drawing did not reflect those ideas in any way, they said. The examples showed buildings with casement windows instead of large panes of glass, along with peaked roofs or facades, and the board said they did not see any of that included in the latest design.

"You know what New England architecture looks like. That's what we want. The modern elements of this are counter to what we'd like to see," said Paratore.

Domenic Canzano added it just might be a new look for Walmart that will make people say "Wow."

"I know you guys can do that. You have the technology," he told Gallagher.

Gallagher said he appreciated the chance to sit down with the board to discuss ideas outside of the larger Planning Board meetings.

"We've got a better idea of what you want, now let's see if we can make it work," he said.

The architectural firm will continue their efforts to find an exterior design that would be agreeable to both Walmart and the Town of Tilton and present another concept at their next meeting on Aug. 24.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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