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2006-02-12
Batavia, NY. Court Overturns Lower Courts, Rules For Wal-Mart

On December 13, 2005, Sprawl-Busters reported that citizens in Batavia, New York had put a proposed Wal-Mart into a deep freeze when they took the town to court. The group Batavia First had challenged the planning process used by the town, and charged that it was incomplete. The lower courts agreed with Batavia First, that the town had not filled out all the planning forms properly, but the state Appellate court in Rochester, in a short, two page decision, ruled against the citizens last week. The 5 judge panel of the Appellate Court said that the town's planning board submitted all of the material it had in its possession, and that the town was not required to submit additional parts of the state planning process to county planners at the same time. The lower courts had ruled just the opposite -- that the town did have to submit parts II and III of the state environmental quality review act. In this case, the town of Batavia was the "lead agency" for the environmental review, and town planners said the huge Wal-Mart supercenter would not have a significant adverse environmental impact, giving the project a "negative declaration" so it did not have to conduct further reviews. By leaving off parts II and III of the process, the town did not consider any range of possible environmental impacts, or whether they could be mitigated. In essence, Batavia officials short-circuited the process in its infancy. All the Appellate court said was that the town gave the county what background material it had, but the court did not take up the issue of the fact that the largest retail project in the history of Batavia was ruled as not having significant impacts.

What you can do: The Appellate Court ruling does not consider whether the town of Batavia was correct in determining that a store four times the size of a football field would only have insignificant impacts on the environment. In many other New York state communities, a Wal-Mart supercenter is an automatic "positive declaration" of impact, which requires the lead agency, in this case, the town, to continue asking impact questions. In Batavia, town officials took what the developer handed them, approved it, and said nothing bad would happen with traffic, stormwater runoff, etc. In Batavia, the unexamined life seems to be the philosophy. Don't ask, don't tell. And now the Courts, in a very narrow interpretation of what it was asked to do, has supported this farce of a review process. The only good news here: if it were not for the work of Batavia First in raising money to go to court, this Wal-Mart store would already be open and taking sales away from existing businesses in town.












 
 
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