On January 4, 2009, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart may have expected their proposal for a supercenter in Greece, New York to be greased — but because of some upset neighbors — a grand opening keeps slipping away. On April 16, 2008, Sprawl-Busters noted that a New York state Supreme Court justice approved a Wal-Mart supercenter over the objections of local residents, and ended two years of bitter controversy in this community of roughly 93,000 people. The court’s decision came two years after Wal-Mart first had announced plans to build a 184,212 s.f. superstore in Greece, a community that already has a 115,000 s.f.Wal-Mart discount store on Elm Ridge Center Drive. Wal-Mart is also proposing to build a second supercenter on West Ridge Road, down the road from its current store. There are a total of six Wal-Marts within 13 miles of the town, including 2 supercenters five miles away in Rochester, New York. Despite this over-saturation of stores, Wal-Mart teamed up with the developer Widewaters, to propose a supercenter in the Northgate Plaza in Greece. Less than a month before the project was submitted, the town enacted a moratorium on development in the affected area, known as the Dewey Avenue corridor. The only way Wal-Mart could build was to seek a special deal — to be removed from the moratorium. This halt in development was put into place so that the town’s Central Dewey Avenue Corridor Enrichment Task Force could come up with plans for reviving the historic commercial center. Rather than honor the moratorium, Wal-Mart asked for an exemption to the freeze. The plaza would be expanded by 40,000 s.f. to produce the size of building that Wal-Mart wants, directly in contradiction to the historic nature of the surrounding area. “We are hoping the town will reconsider, based on the receipt of our application,” a Wal-Mart spokesman said in 2006. “The plaza is half empty right now.” The Northgate Plaza, on 24.2 acres of land, is owned by Widewaters development, which has been the subject of many New England battles over supercenter sprawl. A group called Residents Against Wal-Mart, or RAW, sued the town of Greece in October of 2007, one month after town officials greased the project. The residents charged that Greece officials had their minds made up about the store and didn’t properly listen to residents’ concerns. “We feel that this project is going to ruin the neighborhood,” one RAW member said. “The town plan indicates that our commercial corridor should be on West Ridge Road, it does not say that corridor should be on Dewey Avenue. Once a big-box has its foot in the door, other stores will come in and want to knock down houses and build other big boxes.” The Dewey Avenue area today is a mix of commercial and residential uses — not the appropriate place for an intensive commercial development. Resident opposition forced Wal-Mart to shrink the size of their store to 146,000 s.f. plus a McDonald’s restaurant. Part of the existing Northgate Plaza will have to be torn down to make way for Wal-Mart. State Supreme Court Justice John J. Ark dismissed the citizen’s lawsuit. “Having examined the substantial record of public hearings, traffic and environmental studies and inquiries, cross-jurisdictional cooperation and substantive deliberation, [this court] is convinced that the Boards acted with due diligence,” Judge Ark wrote. The Judge said the court cannot “overrule the thoughtful decision making of the boards.” The Judge added, “RAW is still free, however, to negotiate desired cosmetic and other modifications with Wal-Mart management, who have expressed a sincere and ongoing desire to work with the Northgate community on finalization of the redevelopment plans.” The head of Residents Against Wal-Mart, said he was disappointed in the decision, and repeated the group’s contention that the project wasn’t properly reviewed, and that it would result in increased traffic, and alter the character of the neighborhood. “We are still in this for the long haul because we do sincerely believe that a ‘big-box’ store Wal-Mart is not the proper thing for the shopping center nor for the neighborhood,” a spokesman for RAW said. The town’s Planner disagrees, and told the Greece Post, “The master plan does not say big-box stores should be located only on Ridge Road… it notes that this would be an appropriate area for big box-type development. It does not say that’s the only place that big box development should go in town.” However the town’s own study of the Dewey Avenue corridor, done during the moratorium, suggested that the four-lane road should be more pedestrian friendly, encourage neighborhoods’ viability and become the site of more businesses. A mixed-use development was proposed with offices, retail, town homes and apartments. On May 30, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that RAW had decided to continue its legal battle. RAW appealed the New York Supreme Court Judge’s April ruling. RAW says the town boards failed to consider the Dewey Avenue Corridor Study. A town official told the newspaper, “We’re confident that the decision on that was done in a thorough and very deliberative manner and there was numerous opportunities for public input which helped make the project a better project, so we’re confident that the decision will be upheld.” He pointed out that the town boards held three public meetings on the Wal-Mart project — one of which went into the early morning — as if the length of hearing validates if fairness. “We really feel this Wal-Mart is not appropriate for this area of Greece,” Donn Rice, president of RAW said. The original lawsuit was filed because the court said the group did not have ‘standing’ to bring the lawsuit, which means they were not considered an aggrieved party under state law. RAW’s appeal seeks to have the Court remand the case back to the town for review. “We know we’re like David fighting Goliath here,” Rice said. “But we still think the process the town used was not proper or complete.” According to the Democrat & Courier, the Northgate Plaza has been deteriorating over the years, with the main anchor now a Big Lots store. But RAW’s lawyer, David Seeger, says that’s Widewaters’ fault. “Our position is … that Widewaters let the plaza fall into disrepair, and now they’re presenting that Wal-Mart as the only solution. Theirs is a problem that’s self-created, but the solution should reflect the needs of the community.” This week, the Messenger Post Media reports that RAW got their day in court on January 23rd, and a decision will be handed down in six weeks for four months. RAW spokesman Rice said that the group’s attorney feels that RAW is “still in the game.” Eight members from the group were in court. Wal-Mart’s lawyer argued this week that RAW does not have standing to bring their suit. “They have had their day in court and it was dismissed on proper ground,” he said. “We are fighting for the rights and quality of life in our part of Greece,” Rice told the Messenger News.
It is always hard to stop a project located in an existing commercial development. The Northgate Plaza has fallen on hard times, and lost its old anchor stores like J.C. Penney’s and Woolworth’s. Today the largest tenant is the Big Lots store. The judge gave the citizen’s group little to be comforted by. Judge Ark said RAW could negotiate “cosmetic and other modifications” with Wal-Mart, but such “cosmetic” changes amount to nothing more than the colors of the store, what kind of shrubs will be used in landscaping, etc. RAW has already delayed Wal-Mart for two and a half years, got it to shrink the size, and cost the company a couple hundred million in lost sales at this location. The group points out that there is residential property behind this site, and that there are other appropriate sites in the community for such a project. RAW also states that the town does not need two Wal-Marts. Readers are urged to send an email to Greece Supervisor John Auberger at http://www.townofgreece.org/AboutOurTown/. Tell Supervisor Auberger: “If Wal-Mart ever builds a supercenter at Northgate Plaza, Greece is going to be left holding the bag on an empty Wal-Mart on Elm Ridge Center. The idea of two supercenters so close to one another is a wasteful use of land. All you’ve gained is two more grocery stores. There will be no new jobs or revenues from this project, and Greece’s real economic development needs will never be addressed by simply loading up on more redundant retailers that force other retailers to shut down. Greece is on a slippery slope. You are ignoring your Dewey Avenue Corridor Plan, which called for a mixed use development for that area. Make big chain stores fit your corridor plan, not the reverse. Let’s hope the Appellate Court sends this case back to the town, where the plan can be denied, and forced to relocate to a more appropriate setting. RAW is to be congratulated for standing up for citizens against Town Hall.”