- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Jack Brigham doesn’t feel endangered.

“Not a bit,” said the 50-year-old dairy farmer and chairman of the St. Albans, Vt., Town Council.

But he should, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The Washington-based trust is worried that the nation’s biggest retailer, Wal-Mart, and other big-box stores have an eye on Mr. Brigham’s rural stretch of Vermont.

Wal-Mart’s proposed stores are a threat to St. Albans and other communities that would “spur additional development, sprawl, disinvestment in downtowns, the loss of locally owned businesses and the erosion of the state’s unique sense of place,” the trust said this week in naming the entire state of Vermont as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

A listing does not ensure protection, but it does raise awareness of sites the trust deems historic treasures.

It is Vermont’s second time on the annual endangered list. The first listing came in 1993, when Wal-Mart took its first crack at retail in Vermont.

Now the Bentonville, Ark., retailer has four Green State stores. St. Albans, in Vermont’s northwest corner, kept Wal-Mart out the first time around, but now is next in line for one of seven new megastores, the trust said.

“We have to grow and we are not interested in pickling Vermont. But we want to grow in a way that doesn’t undermine downtowns and doesn’t harm countrysides,” said Paul Bruhn, executive director of the Preservation Trust of Vermont, the Burlington, Vt., group that nominated the state for the national list.

That means smaller stores, including moderately sized Wal-Marts, located in downtowns.

Wal-Mart is planning a 148,000-square-foot store outside the city — the only new project the retailer has confirmed for Vermont.

For Mr. Brigham, that type of economic development is just fine.

“I don’t know what the big deal is. But I get really disturbed by these preservation people,” he said. “I think when they put that stuff out there, they are the ones endangering Vermont.”

Though the residents of Vermont do not see eye-to-eye on the details of the Wal-Mart plan, they are willing to listen to different proposals. While Mr. Brigham is agitated at the “tree huggers,” as he called them, he is ready to listen to other ideas through the planning process, including a June 10 zoning hearing he expects to be “quite a show.”

Input is expected from Mr. Bruhn, the city of St. Albans — a separate legal entity inside the town — area residents, and, of course, Wal-Mart.

Brian Searles, St. Albans city manager, reckons that his entire downtown does not have 148,000 square feet of retail. St. Albans’ lone general merchandise store, Ames, closed two years ago.

“Anytime you consider a development of that size and scope for an area of less than 50,000 people you have to be concerned about the impacts, and we are. On the other hand, we need a general merchandiser,” Mr. Searles said.

Currently, residents drive roughly 30 miles to Williston to shop at Wal-Mart.

“In Vermont, people are tired of traveling to get the goods they want at the prices they want to pay,” said Mia Masten, regional manager of community affairs for Wal-Mart.

Betty Finn, a St. Albans city resident and chairwoman of a group called Citizens for Responsible Growth, said many citizens were angry when Wal-Mart was shut out of town the last time it tried.

“At the time, a lot of local people were very angry they were turned down — they wanted Wal-Mart prices. I believe there is still a lot of that sentiment, but we are also hearing from people becoming more environmentally conscious, who don’t want to see the landscape further diminished. So I’m not really sure what will happen,” she said.

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