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August 25. 2013 10:48PM

South Willow Street Walmart is one court decision away

MANCHESTER — Walmart remains one court decision away from opening its long-desired Supercenter on a massive lot near South Willow Street, the company said recently.

A January ruling by the New Hampshire Supreme Court favored Walmart, which in December 2009 won Manchester Planning Board approval to build a 188,000-square-foot Supercenter at the shuttered Associated Grocers property on Gold Street.

The issue is likely to be of interest to consumers, especially following the announcements of closings of Shaw’s and Stop & Shop grocery stores, including the Stop & Shop located at 777 South Willow St.

The Walmart issue has gone to court, been bounced back to the Planning Board, then returned to the courts. Hannaford Brothers, which operates a supermarket on nearby John E. Devine Drive, has challenged the Planning Board decision to allow the Walmart.

“We still have a strong interest in building a new Supercenter at the Gold Street location in Manchester,” wrote William Wertz, spokesman for Walmart, in an email to the New Hampshire Union Leader. He said the company believes it will prevail in court, but would not predict when.

“We intend to build as soon as we can,” he said.

Hannaford and other nearby companies filed two cases against Walmart, whose Supercenter would include a full-service supermarket.

One suit challenged the Planning Board decisions that allowed for the Walmart to move forward. The Planning Board required Walmart to make $3.5 million in improvements to nearby roads and convince the city to gate off the residential portions of Gold and Sewall streets.

The second suit, which remains active, challenges the city’s decision to gate off the two streets. Final briefs were filed in that case in late June, but the Supreme Court has yet to review it.

That review likely will take place by the end of the year. At that point, the Supreme Court could decide it based upon the written arguments, as it did the earlier decision. Or it could schedule oral arguments.

“Whether they’re going to demand an oral argument, I don’t know,” said Peter R. Chiesa, the assistant city solicitor who is arguing the case on the city’s behalf.

He cautioned against assuming the high court will decide the case without oral arguments. Doing so would likely extend the time before a decision is made.

Both cases are different, and the case regarding the gates was decided by a judge after a two-day trial, Chiesa said.

In the January decision that upheld the Planning Board approval, the Supreme Court unanimously said the record contains “an abundance of support” for the board’s decision.

“While (Hannaford) may have offered contrary expert evidence, the (planning) board was well within its discretion ... to evaluate and accept the evidence offered by (Walmart), and to reject contradictory proof,” wrote Chief Justice Linda Dalianis.

Stop & Shop recently closed six stores and three gas stations. Michael Power, community outreach administrator at the Office of Workforce Opportunity, said the state’s rapid response team was planning meetings this week with 522 part-time and 150-full-time displaced employees.

The Stop & Shop announcement followed an announcement late last month that Shaw’s supermarkets would close a half-dozen New Hampshire locations, along with stores in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
 
Meanwhile, Market Basket has opened several new stores in New Hampshire. The Market Basket store on Donald Street in Bedford opened in May. That followed a location opening on Elm Street in Manchester in April 2012, and one in Hooksett on Market Drive in 2011.

The Bedford location was the 30th Market Basket to open in New Hampshire. In June, the company also opened an expanded store at Somerset Plaza in Nashua, a city that includes two Market Basket stores. Hannaford has 37 locations in New Hampshire.

mhayward@unionleader.com



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