"It did roll in the door today unannounced," said District 8 Environmental Coordinator Warren Foster.
The Vermont Environmental Court had previously set several dates for Ohio-based developer Jonathan Levy to file his Act 250 permit. Levy had missed them, but was granted several extensions by the court. Levy, with BLS Bennington, LLC., won town permits in January 2006 to increase the size of the Wal-Mart in the Monument Plaza on Northside Drive to 112,000 square feet.
The town-issued permit was immediately challenged by the Vermont Natural Resources Council on behalf of a citizen's group in Bennington. Levy also appealed the permit because he opposed several town-imposed conditions. Hearings on the appeals have been on hold, by order of the Vermont Environmental Court, until an Act 250 application was filed, so the inevitable appeals could be combined with the others.
Levy's Rutland-based attorney, Alan B. George, said Tuesday that some modifications had been made to the permit. He said the Agency of Natural Resources had mapped the fluvial erosion limits for the Walloomsac River, which were within the planned construction zone. As a result, changes were made to the site plan, George said.
"The only change of any consequence would be the slight alteration of the location of the building to accommodate the fluvial erosion zone. That was a regulatory requirement that arose long after we initially obtained our permit in Bennington," George said. "Obviously, we had to accommodate that zone and avoid being in it."
George said he was unsure if the site plan changes are enough to require Levy to resubmit his plans to the town and receive new permits. "I haven't tried to evaluate that question. That's a question that has to be addressed at some point," he said.
If the Act 250 permit is approved and all appeals settled in a timely manner, George said it is possible that the entire permitting process could be completed this year and the project could move to the construction phase.
"I would think that we could conceivably be through the process before the end of the year. Arguably, the end of fall might be possible if you are hypothetically saying that everything goes smoothly," he said.
Foster said it will take a few days of review before the application can be deemed complete. If it is found to be incomplete, a letter will be issued to Levy, he said. If it is found to be complete, Foster said he will begin scheduling pre-hearing conferences for interested parties to begin airing issues with the project. No testimony will be taken during the initial meetings, he said.
"There's enough controversy already known to exist. There's no point doing something the first day with experts," Foster said.
He said the hearings could begin within a month and will be held in Bennington.
Levy's first proposal was not permitted because the town had a cap on stores of 75,000 square feet at the time.
Residents, disappointed with the decision, signed petitions and forced a vote on the "big box" ban. The petitioners prevailed and overturned the town bylaw.
A newer bylaw, passed by the Select Board in April 2005, controls large retail stores but allows them if an economic impact study is done.