Wal-Mart may have thought that local officials in Batavia, New York were going to grease the skids to allow the retailer to build a superstore in this small town in fast time — but just the opposite has happened. Wal-Mart wanted to expand its existing 125,000 s.f. discount store into a 208,000 s.f. supercenter. The citizens group Batavia First has forced Wal-Mart into a major holding action, costing the company well over $100 million in lost sales at their proposed Batavia supercenter. Newflash last wrote about Batavia on December 22, 2004, when the citizens court case came up for a decision. The citizens charged that the town of Batavia had not properly completed environmental reviews under the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). The court agreed, and nullified all the actions of the town Planning board. The town appealed the decision, and now, one year later, the case is being heard by the New York State Appellate Division, Fourth Judicial Department. Batavia First said the town had to fill out Part II of the Environmental Assessment Form (EAF), but the town says they didn’t have to fill out that form. Part II has 20 key questions on environmental impact that the town is supposed to answer. They didn’t bother to properly fill out the EAF. One of the Appellate Judges told the town, “when you fill out the EAF Part II, you’re supposed to fill it out carefully.” But the town didn’t answer any of the 20 questions posed under the state law. Batavia First attorney Anthony DiFilippo III, said the Planning Board had to submit a “full statement” under the law, and cited a similar case he won in Niagara Falls when that town failed to do a full environmental statement for a Wal-Mart proposal also. DiFilippo also wants the court to require the town to include a study of the potential economic impact of the Wal-Mart on other businesses in the community, which would have a direct impact on public revenues and public welfare. A ruling in this case is expected any day now.
Win or lose at this point, by going to court, Batavia First has made town officials look foolish, and made Wal-Mart wait for more than a year in the courts. That in itself is a major victory for a citizens group that has had to fight not only Wal-Mart, but the town officials who shilled for the retailer in the first place.