Retail giant eyes former Williston driving range for first Vermont store
Sept. 29, 2011
By Adam White
As the last state in the country without a Target department store, Vermont has long been in the corporation’s big, red bulls-eye. Last week, the Minneapolis-based retailer moved closer to bagging a prime location in Williston.
Representatives from Target Corporation met with town officials on Sept. 23 and presented plans for a retail store at the former driving range property at 6180 Williston Rd.
“They showed us three or four site plan ideas, looking down from a bird’s eye view,” town planner Ken Belliveau said.
Belliveau confirmed that the meeting also involved town manager Rick McGuire and public works director Bruce Hoar. Target was reportedly represented by Regional Real Estate Manager Tom Carrico and Senior Development Manager Katie Rivard, while representatives from Vanasse Hangen Brustlin — a consulting firm with an office in North Ferrisburgh — also attended.
Belliveau also confirmed that a meeting took place last month involving town officials, Carrico and Rivard and Al and Nicole Senecal, representatives from Omega Real Estate — which owns the parcel of land being targeted for the project. Belliveau said that at last week’s meeting, Carrico indicated that some negotiations regarding the property had taken place between Target and Omega.
“Tom said something along the lines of, ‘we think we’ve reached a deal with the Senecals,’” Belliveau said.
Target spokesperson Eddie Baeb declined to discuss any specifics of the land negotiations or proposed store project. He cited the company’s policy of waiting to comment on any new store development until nine to 12 months before that store’s opening date.
“Target has long been interested in having a store in Vermont,” Baeb said. “However, at this time, we have no additional information to share.”
Nicole Senecal of Omega Real Estate confirmed that her company has been in contact with Target concerning the property, but declined to discuss negotiations. Repeated calls to Jeff Nelson at Vanasse Hangen Brustlin were not returned.
The project would need to clear a number of planning hurdles before progressing into even the first stages of construction. The site being examined is currently zoned as mixed-use residential, requiring developers to bring the project through Williston’s specific plan process.
Changes to a parcel’s zoning typically require that five of a possible nine criteria for public benefit, as outlined in Chapter 9 of the town’s by-laws, be met. Some of those criteria are job creation/retention, preservation of open spaces and the creation of affordable housing.
“The Planning Commission has to be able to determine that their specific plan has the potential to meet enough of those criteria,” Belliveau said. “They have already started to think about how they would meet that five of nine.”
One way is apparently through the creation of affordable housing. Belliveau said at least one of the proposed site plan ideas included the construction of apartments along the western side of the property, parallel to the existing Maple Tree housing buildings. The site — which comprises two parcels of land totaling 17.2 acres — previously received approval for an approximately 120-unit housing development referred to as Cottonwood.
Belliveau also foresees traffic issues and public perception as being potential challenges. Indications are that a formal traffic study has yet to be conducted in connection with the project, but even loose estimates of trip numbers discussed at the two meetings raised concerns, according to Belliveau.
“It’s a good distance from Exit 12 (off Interstate 89) to the former driving range property,” Belliveau said. “A lot of trips would be coming from there.”
Belliveau also said “initial public perception (of the project) will be key.” He made reference to public opposition to Walmart in Williston in the early 1990s, when a group called Citizens for Responsible Growth took its battle against the retail giant into the courtroom.
A survey of customers shopping at the Williston Walmart on a recent afternoon revealed differing views of the two retailers. Sierra Ouellette of South Burlington said Target “isn’t really any different than Walmart, other than the name.” Sarah Hamilton of Bristol disagreed, saying that she would “happily” choose Target if given a choice.
“They have a better selection, and much better quality,” Hamilton said. “I only shop (at Walmart) because I have to.”
Gordon Cameron of Burlington said he has “never set foot in a Target,” but welcomes the idea of another big-box retailer leveling the playing field for shoppers.
“It would create competition, which would hopefully drive prices down,” Cameron said. “The customer usually wins in situations like that.”
Belliveau said Target’s representatives have been receptive to holding “more meetings at the staff level, before anything gets filed.” He added that while no time frame has been determined for any portion of the project, he would not expect construction to begin for “several years.”
“It’s going to be a lot of work for everyone involved, but it will be interesting to see how it plays out,” Belliveau said.