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Berkeley County planners OK huge Wal-Mart

December 19, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - Passionate opponents of a proposed Wal-Mart SuperCenter planned for the northern Berkeley County community of Spring Mills could not stop the county planning commission's approval of the project Monday evening.

Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the preliminary site plan after hearing several residents question the store's impact on nearby schools, traffic on neighboring W.Va. 901 and Interstate 81, and the environmental health of the construction site, a former truck stop.

Two residents spoke in favor of the project, saying it could be an anchor for more commercial development and afford area residents needed grocery and general shopping convenience.

Allen Henry, president of Panhandle Builders and Excavating of Martinsburg and developer for the Spring Mills Towne Center, told commissioners that his firm went beyond what was required of county regulations, including having a traffic study completed for the site off I-81 and W.Va. 901.

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"I can guarantee if it's going to be done, it's going to be done properly," said Henry, adding that his company is spending more than $1 million to upgrade roads and add three traffic signals, including one at the store entrance to address traffic concerns.

In a telephone interview Monday, Wal-Mart spokesman James C. Davis said the store proposed would be one of the company's larger stores - 217,970 square feet - and that officials hope to open it sometime in 2008. The existing store at Martinsburg Mall is 204,000 square feet and Davis said it would remain open, refuting resident David Klinger's assertion hours later at the planning commission meeting that it would simply relocate.

Davis estimated the store would employ 300 to 500 people. The average wage for a regular, full-time hourly store associate in West Virginia is $9.18, he said.

Without the additional store, Davis predicted existing "stress" and congestion around the Martinsburg location would get worse.

"We're going to put stores, hopefully wherever the market will support them," Davis said.

Speaking on behalf of Henry, attorney Ken Barton Jr. acknowledged pre-existing environmental concerns with the construction site that came about when the parcel once was home to the truck stop known as Martinsburg Travel Center.

"There was a problem out there and it has been cleaned up," said Barton, referring to apparent soil contamination from fuel storage tank leaks.

A Berkeley County Planning Department staff member told commissioners the county had received a revised Groundwater Protection Plan for the project just after 3 p.m. and recommended approval.

As of November 2006, Wal-Mart employed 12,431 people in West Virginia at 30 Supercenter stores, five Sam's Clubs and four discount stores, Davis said.

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