Just ask local officials in Bethelehem, New York: There’s plenty of room at the inn for sprawlbox development. This little burg is now getting a “Town Center”, courtesy of the Nigro Companies. Newsflash has recorded the sorry story of development in this town (see 4/13/01 and 10/12/01) as residents tried to organize to fight off a 361,000 s.f. retail monstrosity. The town will get a Wal-Mart Supercenter, Wendy’s, an Applebees and a Lowe’s out of the deal (Home Depot dropped out). The Town Board not only OK’d this project, capping two years of State Environmental Quality Review Act process, it also hesitated to even charge the developer $50,000 to put in sidewalks in front of the project. The approval of the Town Center project shows just how useless the SEQRA process is in New York. All it really does is delay permits and cost developers time and money. But it does not protect the environment or local economies from sprawl. Only one of the five Town Board members voted against the plan, citing his desire to see the developer pay for the cost of building 3/4ths of a mile of sidewalk along Route 9W. “I think it’s a fair policy to ask the developer to contribute to the cost (of building sidewalks),” the Board member told the New Scotland Spotlight newspaper. “Without the project, the problem wouldn’t be there.” The state estimated that laying sidewalks along Route 9W could cost $300,000, and proposed that Nigro be asked to put $50,000 in an escrow account for that purpose. But another board member suggested that New York state taxpayers should pay for sidewalks in front of the new project. “I don’t think it’s right that the developer pay for something that’s essentially the state’s responsibility,” she said. “We pay a lot of taxes to the state in this town…I think the ball should be in Department of Transportation’s court.” The citizen opposition group, Plan 9W, named after the highway fronting the project, has 30 days to appeal the town decision.
Other communities ask developers to pay millions to pick up the cost of their infrastructure add-ons. Sometimes developers on their own offer millions (see Lower Makefield, PA), but in Bethlehem, local officials think its cute to ask taxpayers (themselves) to pay the freight. The Wal-Mart and the Lowe’s will draw much of their revenue from the existing retail base, weakening the overall existing base of area merchants. This is not economic development, but for officials in Bethlehem, its as exciting as seeing Wayne Newton. For more details about this sad tale, contact [email protected].com