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2008-01-12
Lockport, NY. Wal-Mart Juggling Two Lawsuits From Neighbors

A controversial Wal-Mart supercenter is locked in litigation in Lockport, New York after three years of bickering at hearings. Sprawl-Busters reported on October 1, 2007 that citizen opposition from neighbors in Lockport had forced Wal-Mart to withdraw its original plan for a 203,000-s.f., 24-hour supercenter at an old mall site. Wal-Mart presented officials with a reworked proposal, that was more amenable to town officials, but still did not garner the support of the Lockport Citizens for Smart Growth. Wal-Mart reduced the supercenter to 185,600 s.f., increased the back buffer to allow a 10-foot wall that would "protect" adjacent residential backyards from 50 to 100 feet, extended the wall northward to "shield" homes on another road, and added a 40-foot-wide 'detention pond' between the back of the store and the protective wall, and added other minor enhancements. An existing Bon Ton Department store will remain on the site. Despite these minor changes, the project remains a major intrusion into the residential neighborhood. This week, Lockport Smart Growth Inc. filed a second lawsuit to halt construction of the supercenter, which has been approved by the town. The second suit names Wal-Mart and the Zoning Board of Appeals as defendants. In December, the ZBA granted no less than 14 area variances to allow Wal-Mart to build at the Lockport Mall. Homeowners Joan Grigg and Joanne Woodside are listed as plaintiffs on the court petition. In December, five homeowners sued the town planning board. Lockport Smart Growth charges that the planning and zoning approvals were granted illegally. "I am not anti-Walmart. I am against where they want to put it," Woodside told the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal. "That spot is too small. Once it's here, it's here and there's nothing you can do." Smart Growth says the zoning board broke town zoning law when it agreed to treat two legally separate properties as one. "ZBA effectively rewrote the zoning code by treating the project site as one property and by rendering decisions based on street lines instead of lot lines," the suit says. "The variances granted are so substantial in scope that the ZBA effectively rewrote the zoning code." The lawsuit claims that the zoning board violated state law by failing to consider the impacts of supercenter traffic. The New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) requires the town to consider potential environmental impacts of a project and the ZBA allowed Wal-Mart to delay some traffic study until after construction -- and promise to perform unspecified remediation if necessary. The law says effects have to be understood and remedial measures prescribed before construction. The plaintiffs argue that the two properties should have been treated separately, which would have requires 33 more variances. Wal-Mart originally applied for 41 variances in October 2006. Between then and last month, most of them disappeared from the proceedings, the suit said. A number of the variance requests were referred to the planning board, which approved several "extreme hardship" waivers that Smart Growth also is challenging.

What you can do: Wal-Mart does not like to explain to its stockholders why projects like this one, which encroach on the neighbors, end up taking years to get permitted. If Wal-Mart had been able to find a site more amenable to the public, or sized their store to fit the parcel, the hearing process would have concluded in three to six months. Instead, the company is locked into a three year struggle, leading to courtroom, not a ribbon-cutting. Wal-Mart is partially responsible for the delay, several times asking for the project to be put on hold while they negotiated with a second developer over the land deal. But they managed to convince public officials that the public wants this new store. Lockport officials have charged that its only the NIMBY homeowners who object to this plan. "It is ridiculous that taxpayers, 30-year residents, are brushed off for the 'new kid on the block.' Wal-Mart came in and has walked all over them," one homeowner told the Union-Sun & Journal. "People do say we're right. They say 'why are they so hell-bent on putting it there? The zoning board asks all these in-depth questions about a (resident's request for a) storage shed, but when it comes to this, they sit there like a bunch of little wooden soldiers. We're not the only ones who see it." Normally, stores along South Transit Road are supposed to be no further than 100 feet back from the road. But Wal-Mart was given a variance to place its store 766 feet back from the road, which pushes it up against the residences abutting the property line. Wal-Mart says it wants to open the store in the spring of 2009, but a spokesman for the retailer said, "Once we get a shovel in the ground, it takes about a year. If a lawsuit is filed, that would change everything relative to the timing." The newspaper reports that both lawsuits could end up being consolidated into one, and heard as early as February 14th. Readers are urged to contact the Lockport Town Board, and Supervisor Marc Smith at (716) 439-9520, or by email at: http://www.elockport.com/town_board_contact.html, with the following message: "You should settle your legal case with neighbors of the Wal-Mart by going back to the hearing process and forcing these developers to reduce the size of the Lockport Mall project, reduce the setback for the Wal-Mart so it does not overshadow their homes, and treat the parcel as two separate sites. Neighbors and taxpayers should not have to be losers when Wal-Mart wins. Homeowners should not have to sacrifice the peaceful enjoyment of their homes just to give Wal-Mart more market share. Meet with these taxpayers and settle this lawsuit by asking Wal-Mart to be a better neighbor."










 
 
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