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2004-09-07
Batavia, NY. Citizens Take Wal-Mart & Town To Court

The course of development never did run smooth -- at least, for Wal-Mart that's increasingly the case. What used to be a cut-and-dried three month permitting period can now turn into years. Once again, local citizens in a small town are using their First Amendment rights to challenge a town decision in favor of a proposed Wal-Mart expansion project. A local group called "Batavia First" has filed a so-called "Article 78" against the town and the retailer. The legal action, which was filed on August 20th, asks a Genesee County Judge to void the votes taken by the Batavia, New York Planning and Zoning Boards declaring the Wal-Mart would have no significant impact on the environment, granting a special permit for a drive-through pharmacy and stormwater detention pond, and overall site plan approval. Wal-Mart's plan calls for expanding its current 125,000 s.f. store to a 208,000 s.f. supercenter with grocery. Attornies for Batavia First said town officials failed to follow state laws in granting their approvals. The group says the town should have referred the project to the county Planning Board before votes were taken. The citizen's group also charges that the Planning Board failed to properly complete the Environmental Assessment Form, and failed to properly authorize itself as the lead agency in the New York state's Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) process. The suit also contends that the town failed to determine that traffic and stormwater issues had been resolved prior to voting that the project would not have an environmental impact. Finally, the suit claims that Planners did not fully analyze the impact that a Wal-Mart expansion would have on area traffic. The negative declaration filed by the town was a "bare bones statement" the Batavia First lawsuit says, with parts of the review never done at all. The lawsuit will have an initial hearing on October 1st, but Wal-Mart's plans for a speedy construction process are now on hold.

What you can do: What residents in Batavia are doing is similar to what developers have done for years. If you don't get the decision you want in a zoning case, you go to court. Developers use that threat incessantly in big box cases. Local officials repeat as a mantra "it's a done deal. If we don't give them what they want, they'll take us to court." Now that mantra is being used more and more by citizen's groups, who are willing to invest the time and money to go to court to level the playing field. For contacts with members of Batavia First, email info@sprawl-busters.com.










 
 
"Norman has become the guru of the anti-Wal-Mart movement" ~ 60 Minutes

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