On September 25, 2007, Sprawl-Busters reported that a developer called Newman Development, based in Vestal, New York, wanted to build a 130,720 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter in Johnson City, New York, on the site of the former Endicott Johnson Ranger Paracord site in the village. Newman Development has been trying to redevelop this property as a retail center for 14 years, the company claims. The Johnson market area already has a larger Wal-Mart supercenter in Vestal, which is only a five minute drive from Johnson. A citizen’s group, the Coalition for Positive Revitalization for Johnson City, has been fighting the proposal. The village board had to give Newman a special permit to use industrial land for retail, and then the village planning board had to approve the site plan. This week, despite community opposition, the planning board did just that — unanimously. “The process up until now has been very thorough and exhaustive, say nothing of exhausting,” Newman’s attorney told Channel 10 News. “We’re pleased to get this final vote of approval from the village planning board.” Now Newman hopes to begin construction this spring, and says building the store will take about a year. But the Coalition for Positive Revitalization for Johnson City is mulling over a possible appeal. Here’s a front line report sent to Sprawl-Busters from one of the leaders of the Coalition: “The Johnson City Mayor and Board of trustees voted on a resolution, Oct 16th, to issue a special permit to allow Wal-Mart to build and do business in an industrial zone. The public comment period, prior to this vote, was cut short. The Mayor asked that only new information and arguments be presented. Those who spoke with valid concerns and questions were not given any concrete answers. Our feeling is that there was much bias from the start of this proposal and it continued throughout. Although residents voiced genuine concerns regarding public safety, flood issues and economic concerns — we never have to date received any concrete, straightforward answers. The Mayor and Board have refused to do any additional, unbiased studies on our behalf. Pro Wal-Mart residents were escorted by the Rochester PR firm, Public Strategy Group, employees. Wal-Mart hired this firm to underhandedly promote the yes side and influence our media. My personal meeting with the Mayor made me walk away feeling that he cared more about Wal-Mart’s interests than his constituents.”
Weeks before the vote, Mayor Harry G. Lewis told the media, “We look forward to having Wal-Mart and its employees become a part of our community.” This project was so wired you could see the plugs. As our front line correspondent said, ” I feel that the developer, Marc Newman, had a heavy hand in the outcome of this vote. He stayed after the village board vote of 4 to 1, to reprimand the one trustee who voted no. The Mayor and other “yes” trustees looked very downcast as they placed their yes votes. This struck me as odd. It seemed like they may have been forced to do this. Then the planning board members all voted yes to approve the site plans on Tuesday Oct. 23rd. Again the opposition, including myself, addressed flooding, traffic, and site clean up concerns. Again our voices were not enough to influence the outcome. Marc Newman and Bergman Associates would not answer our questions they just kept referring us to get the answers, from the reports, through public information. Again the PR firm was represented, sitting between the two loudest pro Wal-Mart resident voices.” The Coalition for Positive Revitalization has 30 days from the date this site plan approval is submitted to the village clerk to appeal. Wal-Mart and Newman Development spent a lot of money getting to this point, including the now-standard practice of hiring a public relations firm to line up supporters.