Judge upholds Wal-Mart expansion plan

Groton - Stop & Shop has lost a legal fight to stop the Groton Wal-Mart from expanding by 40,000 square feet, making it one-third larger than its current size.

Stop & Shop Supermarket Co. LLC filed an administrative appeal in New London Superior Court in June 2011 against the Groton Town Planning Commission and Wal-Mart Real Estate Business Trust LP.

The complaint said the planning commission had made an error in approving the site plan for the expansion because it would increase traffic on an access road that connects the two shopping areas, though Wal-Mart does not own the access road.

Stop & Shop holds a long-term lease with about 15 other tenants in Groton Square Shopping Center. The landlord, CW Groton Square LLC, also owns a driveway that connects Stop & Shop and Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart's main entrance is off Route 184, while Groton Square's main entrance is off Route 12. But as a practical matter, many shoppers pass between the two using the access driveway.

Tom Shugrue of Groton used the drive to get from Stop & Shop to Wal-Mart on Tuesday afternoon. He said he stops at Wal-Mart three days a week, buys what he needs, then hops on the access road and goes to Stop & Shop for whatever Wal-Mart doesn't have. He said he knows many people who do the same.

"I would love them to expand," he said of Wal-Mart. "The bigger the better."

The expanded store would include a larger grocery section and would comprise about 160,000 square feet.

In issuing his decision in favor of the commission and Wal-Mart, Superior Court Judge Joseph J. Purtill wrote that it was not his place to second-guess a local commission. He said he could only find in favor of Stop & Shop if it demonstrated that the commission had been "unreasonable, arbitrary or illegal."

The court "must not substitute its judgment for that of a local commission and must not disturb the decision of the commission as long as honest judgment has been reasonably and fairly exercised," Purtill wrote.

Brian Smith, the Hartford lawyer who represented Stop & Shop, could not be reached Tuesday. Charles Ray, the lawyer who represented Wal-Mart, said the company preferred to have its media relations department comment. A media representative was not immediately available for comment.

Michael Murphy, Groton town's planning and development director, said Wal-Mart had not yet submitted plans to obtain a building permit but recently spoke to planners.

"We presume they're going to get started soon," Murphy said.



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