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Tilton and Walmart debate traffic plans, address rumors

October 06, 2010
TILTON — Walmart representatives were before the Planning Board in a continuance of their application to expand the Walmart store at Exit 20 into a "super store" with more services and a reconfiguration of the parking lot for better access and safety.

Attorney Peter Imse said the Walmart team had worked on requests for some changes made by the Planning Board and were ready to present the unfinalized plans.

"We're moving heaven and earth for architectural plans we can get to you and we're still awaiting data on groundwater protection, but we felt it was best to come here tonight and keep moving forward until then," Imse said.

Steve Decoursey of Fuller Engineering told the board he has submitted water connection plans to the Tilton-Northfield Water District, and he has also been in contact with the Franklin Waste Treatment facility as well as the Department of Environmental Services to "button up" all permits necessary for the expansion. After hearing comments from the public about possibly connecting the Walmart parking lot with the adjacent Market Basket lot to alleviate traffic on Market Street, Decoursey said he found there is only a 4 percent grade increase between the two lots and, if Market Basket was agreeable, that could indeed be a real possibility.

"It's feasible from a technical aspect is what I wanted to report to you this evening," he said.

Traffic engineer Jason Plourde said his studies came back in agreement with a firm hired by Market Basket, recommending an all-way stop at Sherwood Drive and Market Street. The stop signs would allow traffic to turn right onto Market Street while still allowing vehicles to turn left onto Sherwood Drive from Market Street with less back up during heavy traffic.

"You don't want a traffic light there because it would back up in all directions. An all-way stop is the most feasible approach," said Plourde.

Imse then addressed a letter he had received from the selectmen, voicing concerns over security at Walmart. He said Walmart doesn't want crime and has many measures already in place, which he declined to describe since it would "defeat their purpose."

"To our knowledge the town has not imposed extra security on any other business in town. There is no basis to impose unique conditions on Walmart or any other business that appears before you," Imse said.

He continued by saying there is always a cost associated with development in a town and complaints he has heard concerning a need for more police officers as Exit 20 has grown is part of that price.

"It's part of the investment Tilton made to get more tax revenues into the town. It wouldn't be appropriate to punish those (businesses) now for bringing in this revenue," he said.

Calls for police at Walmart have gone down from 138 to 106 calls in the last year and Imse said Chief Robert Cornier assured him Walmart has not been a bad partner with his department in regards to security.

When the meeting was opened to public comment, Dennis Gaudet of AutoServ agreed that Walmart has been a good neighbor to his business. He said requests by the board to have the façade better reflect the town are not fair just because Tilton has "changed the vision of the image of Exit 20."

Fellow businessman Lenny Burke disagreed with the expansion, telling the board that traffic has become a problem to the extent that people cannot pull out of their driveways at certain hours of the day.

"There may be a net tax revenue but that hasn't benefited the average person in town … what we've got is not what the founding fathers had in mind," said Burke.

Vice Chairman Sarah Paratore held up three designs of other Walmart stores in New England. She said they were examples of what the board has in mind, and plans for them already exist.

"We're not here asking Walmart to recreate the wheel. We're looking for what's good for their business and what's good for the town, trying to balance that in the middle," Paratore said.

Sandra Plessner, the selectmen's representative to the board, had one final word for the Walmart team. Plessner said she had heard rumors Walmart might move to either New Hampton or Belmont if the expansion was not approved. She had also received reports from town employees who were receiving phone calls, which they described as a "strong arm approach- almost threatening" in nature.

"We'll base each case on its merits. We're not here to get rid of you, but we're not here to be told what's going to happen if we don't 'straighten up' and approve this. Your case will be judged on how it fits in with our zoning. Period," said Plessner.

Imse assured her there were no plans to move the Walmart and he would make others aware of the calls that had been placed.

"This board has treated us with total respect. You've been upfront and courteous. To the extent that that happened, I will pass the word up the chain."

In order to allow time for permits to be acquired and for architectural designs to be complete, Walmart's case was further continued until Nov. 9.

Martin Lord Osman
Littleton Chmber
Varney Smith
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