When town officials in Lima, New York opened up the hearing on a proposed Wal-Mart supercenter this week, they got exactly what they should have expected: an earful. That’s the word the Democrat & Chronical newspaper used to describe citizen response to the planned supercenter. More than 800 residents in this small town came to the hearing. Most of those who spoke about the Wal-Mart plan, spoke against it. They raised issues with loss of the town’s rural character, adverse impacts on existing businesses, traffic congestion and environmental damage. Wal-Mart announced its intentions to the town by issuing a news release on April 26, telling residents their plans to build a 165,000-square-foot superstore on 53-acres of land along Route 15A. Within days, 720 people had signed a petition against the Wal-Mart project, and a citizens group has started to organize against the plan. At the hearing, one local organizer of the group said, “I ask the board to work with us to keep Wal-Mart out and work for planned development.” Residents has asked town officials not to rezone the land for this superstore. But they have asked for more: a moratorium on large retail development and approval of a comprehensive master plan for the town.
The residents of Lima have good reason to feel saturated with these big boxes. Lima has no less than 6 Wal-Mart stores within 20 miles of town, including three supercenters alone in Rochester, New York. There is a 4th supercenter in Geneseo, where the retailer shut down a discount store, to open up a supercenter just across the highway. Wal-Mart is systematically moving through upstate New York, proposing supercenters that will shut down their smaller discount stores. For the people of Lima, the supercenter brings no added value to the community, but will only continue the process of dislocating local businesses. The fact is, the land Wal-Mart wants is not zoned correctly, and town officials are under no obligation to rezone land for any developer, large or small. Rezoning is a discretionary act, and officials are not mandated to rezone anything.