On January 12, 2006, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart wanted to build a supercenter in the floodplains of Amherst, New York. Residents in Amherst told Sprawl-Busters: “Wal-Mart is trying to get a site plan for a new Supercenter approved to be built near the corner of New Road and Millersport Highway. This would be wrong on so many levels. Most of the property is in the 100 year floodplain of Ransom Creek and development in this area would upset the delicate balance of flooding and stormwater drainage in the entire region. Amherst is an area with poorly drained soils, septic tanks and stormwater ditches. Sanitary and stormwater drainage problems already exist here. This area also has no large retail areas, so traffic and sprawl are only beginning to affect these areas, which are mainly residential and rural. A Wal-Mart development in this area will bring people, which brings other retail development, which brings more traffic and further sprawl. There are already 2 Wal-Mart facilities in or near Amherst: A supercenter on Transit Road only miles from this site and another large Wal-Mart on Niagara Falls Blvd, not far from this site. These stores are on the outer Western and Eastern boundaries of Amherst. There is also a Wal-Mart south of Amherst in Cheektowaga. This is possibly being put forth now before the new Supervisor and Town board can complete the process of developing limits on new development, especially in floodplains and wetland areas.” By September 7, 2006, Sprawl-Busters updated the Amherst story when the town’s Board of Supervisors voted to rezone 30 parcels of land, including one that was proposed for a Wal-Mart supercenter. The rezoning made Wal-Mart’s no longer appropriate for the site. The vote on the superstore parcel was 6-1 to rezone. The attorney for the Cimato Brothers Development, who owns the land on Millersport Highway, told the Amherst Record that there would be legal action in the future. “On behalf of the property owners there will be a lawsuit. It’s an illegal rezoning. It’s solely to prevent Wal-Mart.” The newspaper said local officials rezoned the land because of environmental impact concerns, including the presence of flood plains and wetlands in north Amherst. “The rezoning is a tactical requirement — it is a design need,” Amherst Supervisor Satish Mohan told the newspaper. “You cannot put people of the future in an area that will not support them. There is no drainage.” Amherst Councilman Bill Kindel indicated that he wanted the town to issue a $7 million bond to prevent development on large tracts of northern Amherst, setting aside the area for farm land, open space and flood control. One of the bonds would reserve a plot of land near Millersport Highway developers wanted to use for a Wal-Mart. “This is not to target Wal-Mart,” Kindel said. “They happen to be in an important area for flood control.” The bonds would mean that the owners of the plots involved would be prohibited from most forms of development. In late 2006, a second Wal-Mart superstore proposal surfaced, with a different developer, and after receiving support from town officials, was challenged by local residents in court. This week, about a year and a half after it was introduced, the second Wal-Mart proposal got a friendlier response from town officials. The town gave the go-ahead to a notorious Wal-Mart developer, Benderson Development. Almost immediately after that decision, local residents filed a legal challenge to the project. A group of Amherst residents organized to fight the proposed superstore at the corner of Sheridan Drive and North Bailey Avenue. This week, Benderson Development got the legal green light to build a 185,000 s.f. Wal-Mart Supercenter at the former Ames/Hills strip plaza. A New York State Supreme Court Judge dismissed the lawsuit filed by the North Bailey Homowners Association. The citizens group had charged that the Amherst Town Board failed to properly review the environmental impacts of the superstore. The lawsuit was filed eight months ago by the citizens, and the judge’s ruling means that Benderson can now demolish the closed Ames department store, a DSW store, and Linens ‘N Things. These 3 stores totaled 160,000 s.f. The stand-alone Wal-Mart store is bigger than all three existing buildings. No ground-breaking date has been set for the new Wal-Mart’s construction.
Wal-Mart’s existing discount store on Niagara Falls Boulevard will shut down, leaving the town of Amherst with a potential eyesore. These “dark stores,” also called “ghost boxes,” can be hard to reuse. There is no market need for another Wal-Mart in the Amherst area. There is a superstore 5 miles away in Clarence, New York. Wal-Mart told the town that their first store location is too small to allow for any store expansion. The Hartford-North Bailey Homeowners Association represents around 1,000 homeowners. The group pointed out that the development is bounded by residential neighborhoods on three sides. To meet town parking requirements, Wal-Mart had to cut its huge store down from 191,734 s.f. Alison Odojewski, one of the Homeowner’s association attorneys, told the Buffalo News that the group is still discussing whether it will decide to appeal this week’s court ruling. Readers are urged to email Amherst, New York Supervisor Satish Mohan at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Supervisor Mohan, in your January, 2008 State of the Town speech, you said you were elected on a platform that called for ‘smart development to avoid any sinking, flooding, or vacant buildings.’ Yet now you have approved the antithesis of smart growth — a Wal-Mart supercenter — and created one of the largest vacant buildings in town. The town’s decision to approve a suburban sprawl project while talking about ‘smart development’ has angered many residents in Amherst. There is no market need in Amherst for a supercenter. Because you already have a Wal-Mart discount store, the only addition is another grocery store. Wal-Mart will take most of its grocery sales from existing food stores in the area. In the past six years, your population has only grown by a few hundred people. Another huge retail store will only split the existing market into thinner slices. Wal-Mart will cannibalize its own store in Amherst, and its other nearby stores. We hope the North Bailey Homeowners, whose property will be hurt by this project, will appeal the court’s ruling against them. And in the meantime, we hope they will file for property tax abatements, since the town’s decision will lower the resale worth of their homes. Amherst needs to put a limit on the future size of retail buildings to prevent another win/lose zoning decision that does little for the town, and hurts homeowners. I urge you to get serious about smart development, and not just use it as a throw-away line in a speech.”