When public officials get desperate — they make big mistakes. This week, the Planning Board in Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey, made a big mistake slightly bigger.
The Mayor of Little Egg Harbor, Ray Gormley, also sits on the township’s Planning Board. On July 15, 2010, when the Planning Board voted to let a proposed Wal-Mart superstore increase in size, the Mayor was quoted in the Asbury Park Press as saying, “My business is one of those mom and pop shops that will be affected, but the town is desperate for ratables.” He then joined the unanimous vote in favor of letting Wal-Mart get bigger.
The Mayor has been involved in politics in Little Egg Harbor for a decade now — and this vote was his biggest mistake. He is the owner of My Three Sons Seafood & Produce located along Route 9. But other small businesses in his township will be much more affected than his store.
On May 1, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that the Big Box of the retail world wanted to come to the Little Egg. Wal-Mart was heading for a review by the Planning Board in Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey. The giant retailer was presenting the township with a “concept plan” for a supercenter. The store would be located on Route 9, just north of Otis Bog Road.
Wal-Mart’s Real Estate Business Trust is the applicant for the store. This is a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) that helps Wal-Mart avoid paying its fair share of state taxes. The Wal-Mart Business Trust has told township officials that it also plans to build a bank on an adjacent lot, according to the Press of Atlantic City.
There’s currently a Wal-Mart store in Manahawkin, New Jersey about 9 miles away, and another in Mays Landing 19 miles south. Wal-Mart is proposing a subdivision plan that would create four separate lots, according to the Asbury Park Press.
The retailer had approached the state for a Coastal Area Facilities Review Act application, because the land Wal-Mart wants is in a coastal area. A spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection had indicated in early 2008 that a Cope’s gray tree frog, a state endangered species, and a Pine Barrens tree frog, a state threatened species, were found in parts of the wetlands. Therefore the wetland buffer setbacks will have to be readjusted to require a 150 foot buffer for the Cope’s gray tree frog . Other wetlands areas where there are no endangered species on the site would require only a 50-foot buffer.
On December 11, 2008, the Press of Atlantic City reported that the American Littoral Society was taking issue with Wal-Mart’s application submitted to the state Department of Environmental Protection. The group’s Atlantic Coast manager sent a letter to the DEP’s Division of Land Use Regulation asking the DEP to reject Wal-Mart’s application because it is not in compliance with the state’s Coastal Zone Management and the Freshwater Wetlands regulations.
The environmental group charges that Wal-Mart’s proposal does not protect threatened and endangered species, coastal special areas, critical wildlife habitats and steep slopes in the area. The Wal-Mart site is basically a migratory bird stopover habitat, according to the American Littoral Society. The ponds in the area offer a breeding habitat for local wildlife as well. Wal-Mart has also run afoul of the Pinelands Commission, whose records note the presence of Pine Barrens boneset and endangered plant species in the area.
Finally, the ALS charges that Wal-Mart is out of compliance with the state’s Coastal Area Facility Review Act, because it does not protect water quality in the site’s wetlands that contain threatened and endangered species. “If there is a threatened or endangered species then it gets a buffer, period,” the ALS told the Press. “We shouldn’t be changing the rules for Wal-Mart. We don’t need the department (DEP) to start cutting corners now.”
One area resident summed it up this way to the Press of Atlantic City, “They basically want to put this giant store in an environmentally sensitive area. I try to explain to people, yeah, it would be great to be able to buy socks two miles from your house, but those 99-cent socks come with a heavy price tag.”
On March 7, 2009, the Wal-Mart project was back in the news. Over the objections of residents in Little Egg, Tuckerton and Eagleswood, the Little Egg Harbor Planning Board approved Wal-Mart’s application for their 151,785 s.f. Route 9 store with a 6,300 s.f. garden center. Residents continued to raise concerns about traffic, deliveries, the presence of the Cope’s gray tree frog, and possible contamination of well water and the environment.
But that vote was not the end of the story. The Planning Board’s approval was challenged legally by township resident Melissa Malashevitz, who is an abuttor to the project, and who objects to the store being built. As of last spring, that lawsuit was still pending before Ocean County Superior Court Judge Vincent Grasso.
On February 4, 2010 the media reported that Wal-Mart had returned to the Little Egg Harbor Planning Board to request that 3,000 s.f. be added to its 151,000 s.f. store. The Planning Board took five months to approve that increase in size for the project at its July 15, 2010 meeting.
The Wal-Mart Realty Trust amendment was to alter the store’s roofline and building footprint to “save heating and cooling costs and create service efficiency inside the supercenter,” according to the Asbury Park Press.
The single story building was increased by approximately 3,000 s.f. but the height of the building was reduced.
Opponents challenged the project once again. The Ocean County Sierra Club questioned the discharge of water collected from the roof through an internal downspout. A Wal-Mart engineer said the water will be discharged outside the store and is considered clean because it will come from the roof and be released into the basins.
Jerry Chudoff, representing the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, testified that the noise from delivery trucks and tractor-trailers will impact the neighborhood despite testimony that they meet state acoustical standards.
In the end, as in the beginning, the Little Egg Harbor Planning Board voted to a person to support the larger store.
In addition to the legal problems facing this store, the project has not yet received approval from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the state Department of Transportation.
Little Egg Harbor had a population in 2006 of only 20,283 people, less than half the population base needed to support a Wal-Mart supercenter. The discount store 9 miles away will probably be shut down if this store in Little Egg Harbor is approved.
The township describes itself as located “amid the natural beauty of Great Bay, just 30 miles north of Atlantic City and a convenient fifteen-minute drive to the famous Jersey Shore beaches of Long Beach Island.” The Township of Little Egg Harbor calls itself a “Little Treasure By The Bay.”
Wal-Mart wants some of that treasure, and if the out-of-scale supercenter is ever built, it will detract from the “little Treasure” ambiance of Little Egg.
Readers are urged to email Mayor Ray Gormley at: [email protected] with the following message:
“Dear Mayor Gormley, If you fear that your seafood business will be affected by a Wal-Mart — — think about the grocery stores and other area businesses in your township that will take a much bigger hit. Why would you vote for the big national chain store and leave your locally-owned businesses in the lurch?
Little Egg Harbor does not need Big Box sprawl. It will change the character of your small community for decades, and flies in the face of your tourism tag line of ‘little Treasure By the Bay.’
People in most communities are surrounded by Wal-Marts, and they want to get away to someplace unique and different. We don’t need superstores in sensitive coastal areas. Little Egg would do better to protect the little tree frog, than to promote the big box.
If Wal-Mart wants to locate a much smaller store, that’s another matter. But the scale of this proposed project, the traffic it will generate, the crime it will spawn — none of these things are compatible with the way of life that attracted people to live in Little Egg.
Adding more square footage this week only made your problem bigger. If you have residents who are addicted to cheap, Chinese imports, they can travel the 9 miles to Manahawkin. Make the Big Box fit the Little Egg, not the reverse.
There are 63 Wal-Mart stores in New Jersey today, but there’s only one Little Egg on earth. Which would you rather protect?”