Retail development bill gets preliminary approval

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(Host) The Senate has given preliminary approval to a bill designed to help towns deal with the impacts of large-scale retail development.

The legislation was triggered by concerns that Wal-Mart and other companies are expanding in Vermont.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The legislation allows towns to collect money from developers in order to pay for impact studies.

Essex-Orleans Republican Senator Vince Illuzzi is chairman of the Senate Economic Development Committee. He says the bill gives communities another tool to assess what can happen when Wal-Mart or another developer comes to town.

(Illuzzi) “As I’ve said repeatedly when people suggest we are anti-large scale retail development, the answer is absolutely not. We welcome to the Vermont community the large retail stores that have begun to find it financially advantageous to locate here in Vermont. We welcome them here, but on our terms and not at our expense.”

(Dillon) Illuzzi said the bill also gives towns additional authority to collect money from developers to offset the costs of a major project.

(Illuzzi) “If we need to expand or to extend our water and sewer and roads and sidewalks, perhaps the developer should pay the pro-rata share of those increased costs.”

(Dillon) Democratic Senator Virginia Lyons is from Williston, a Burlington suburb that’s seen a huge increase in large-scale retail development. She said Williston’s experience showed that the legislation was needed.

(Lyons) “This retail district did place a significant burden on the cost, and on the infrastructure, the police, the fire, the rescue, within the town of Williston.”

(Dillon) Steve Holmes of the Vermont Natural Resources Council described the measure as a modest step that will help communities as they face a new wave of development. He said the legislation allows the towns – not the developer – to pick the consultant that does the impact study.

(Holmes) “What we see with a lot of these big box stores is that there are dueling studies out there, some times two or three studies. The hope here is that we could find early in the process one reliable, credible study that everybody could use to assess the impacts.”

(Dillon) Five Senators voted against the bill but no one spoke against it on the Senate floor.

The legislation comes up for final approval on Friday.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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