On October 1, 2007, Sprawl-Busters reported that a proposed Wal-Mart supercenter was back on the front burner in Lockport, New York. Citizen opposition has locked this project down for several years. Neighbors 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 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, and made other minor enhancements to the project. Wal-Mart also dropped its plans for a gas station in the parking lot. Negotiations also had halted for a time between the retailer and General Growth, the developer who owns the mall site. But new plans call for Wal-Mart to buy the Lockport Mall from General Growth Properties, demolish the entire 285,000-square-foot mall, but leave the Bon-Ton store standing, owned by General Growth. Town officials had signaled that they would grant the project variances needed. The Lockport Planning Board endorsed the project on November 20th by allowing a series of waivers from the town’s commercial overlay district, and the Zoning Board of Appeals approved the project last week when it unanimously granted 14 variances. This week it was announced that citizens plan to file a lawsuit challenging the town’s approval of the Wal-Mart supercenter project. Margaret Magno of the Lockport Citizens for Smart Growth said a lawsuit is being written this week by the group’s lawyer, David J. Seeger of Buffalo. Magno’s home is separated from the proposed Wal-Mart by a 10-foot masonry wall. Opponents charge that the supercenter is just too large for the site, especially with Wal-Mart insisting that all the parking be placed in front of the store. 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.”
Sprawl-Busters visited Lockport in 2005, when local residents were beginning their effort to stop this store. The Lockport Citizens For Smart Growth have successfully held off the project for nearly 3 years, and forced Wal-Mart to modify its project, shrink the store, and toss out the gas station. It’s difficult to stop big box stores proposed on land that has been paved over for a mall. This site is not appropriate for a large store because of the nearby homes abutting the property. If the Wal-Mart had been proposed at the same size as the existing Bon Ton, neighborhood opposition probably would have been scaled down as well. But town officials embraced Wal-Mart at the expense of taxpaying homeowners, forcing residents to foot the legal bill for protecting the value of their largest investment, their homes. The town plans to hire the lawfirm that represents it to work on this litigation, but taxpayers, including opponents, will have to help pay for that legal bill. The town could have left the entire legal bill in Wal-Mart’s lap, since it is the retailer’s permit that is on the line, but instead taxpayers will have to dig deeper to defend the Wal-Mart approval. The irony here is that there already is a Wal-Mart in Lockport on the same road. It’s a discount store, not a supercenter. It will close when the superstore opens. So all Lockport is gaining is another grocery store. This brings no added value to the local economy in Lockport, just shifts market share among the grocery stores. Out of this plan, Lockport gets an empty Wal-Mart, possibly another empty grocery store, a bunch of angry residents, and an unnecessary legal bill.