On September 28, 2007, Sprawl-Busters reported that the town of Wellsville, New York was up against a Wal-Mart.
Almost three years later, all is not well in Wellsville for Wal-Mart. Even though Wal-Mart has reduced the store size by 24% — it’s still not ready to go.
Wellsville promotes itself as a lovely small town in the heart of the Allegany Hills. This town, and Wellsville Village is nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, with the Genesee River flowing through it.
But the town is also looking for big malls, and says it has several properties in “Empire Zones,” which allow it to give tax subsidies to developers. If a Wal-Mart ever happens in this town, it will be with public welfare subsidies.
On March 3, 2008, Sprawl-Busters noted that Wal-Mart held one of its dog and pony shows in Wellsville, but for many local residents, there were no ponies. It is common practice now for Wal-Mart to hold such public relations “open houses,” where people mill around a series of posterboard displays about the proposed Wal-Mart, get to ask the engineers some informal questions, and most importantly, from Wal-Mart’s perspective, sign a sheet supporting the plan. The retailer then uses that list to drum up support for public hearings on the plan later.
A citizen’s group in Wellsville formed quickly to oppose construction of the new store. At the public event, the town’s Supervisor told the newspaper he was concerned by what he saw. The Supervisor noted that traffic congestion would become a major consideration. But right from the beginning, the Supervisor telegraphed his support for the plan. “Traffic is always a concern,” he was quoted as saying, “but if the DOT (state Department of Transportation) signs off on their plan there shouldn’t be a problem.”
This is the standard passive attitude adopted by many local officials. The Supervisor said that he wanted an additional traffic signal to ease congestion and that he was concerned that with the existing road and the additional stretch of road which must be built to tie the new store into the road system. “I think that with proper synchronization of the lights, there won’t be a problem,” the Supervisor said. “Oh, maybe some car will get caught at the light.” Then the Daily Reporter quoted him as saying, “there is always room for compromise.”
The citizen’s group brought in a local environmental attorney to let the Board know that they have the ultimate say on this project. “You have the power, they don’t, it is your town,” said attorney Gary Abraham. “You tell them what you want in the State Environmental Quality Review through the scoping document. You make the final decision.” Abraham told the town to file an Environmental Impact Statement to determine the scoping process of the SEQR.
Attorney Abraham said that an EIS can include such things as any added cost to social services or Medicare, the character of the community and the impact on the local economy. “It’s just common sense that a project like this would dictate that kind of study,” Abraham added. “It is the first form that gives the chance to identify any significant impacts.” The attorney noted that an independent study be done, not one by the developer, and that the cost of such study could be charged off to the developer.
Under New York law, this project was required to conduct an analysis of reasonable alternatives to the site which do less environmental harm. But the key to SEQR is how local officials implement it, and most local officials are “in the tank” with big developers, and only stumble through their paces to try to avoid litigation by citizen’s groups.
The closest Wal-Mart store to Wellsville is 21 miles away in Hornell. It’s just a discount store, so Wal-Mart will either try to expand that store in Hornell, or shut it down. The closest supercenter is 36 miles away in Bradford, Pennsylvania. The retail trade area in Wellsville does not warrant its own supercenter. The town had a 2006 population of 7,460, a drop from 8,116 in 1990. The village of Wellsville had a 2006 population of only 4,898 people — a drop from 1990’s base of 5,241 people. The town and village populations are losing people, and their census combined at 12,358 people does not warrant a supercenter project.
On January 17, 2009, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart, to make its store more palatable locally, had reduced the store’s footprint from 148,000 s.f. to about 112,000 s.f..
The New York State Department of Transportation had not yet finished its traffic analysis of the developer’s traffic report. The DOT was studying two intersections near the site.
Wal-Mart organized an “astro-roots” group called Wellsville Wants Wal-Mart, to counter efforts being organized by the Wellsville Citizens for Responsible Development. WCRD said it wanted to know where the project stands now in the SEQRA process, because the water and sewer issues are just a small part of the larger impacts from the project.
This week the Wellsville Wal-Mart was back in the news, almost three years since its first appearance. When the local newspaper asked Town Supervisor Dar Fanton why there was no activity yet at the Wal-Mart site, the Supervisor said: “Do I have a crystal ball? I haven’t heard anything since I last talked to them.” The Supervisor said that Wal-Mart lawyers “still have work to do.”
Issues over the State Environmental Quality Review have not been finished. Town officials are in the dark about the retailer’s future plans, but Fanton said he was not aware of any change in Wal-Mart’s plan to build in Wellsville.
The head of the local Wellsville Country Club told the Daily Reporter that his group has not had a conversation with Wal-Mart for three years. “We asked them if there was still the potential of a project coming to Wellsville,” the country club spokesman said. “At that time, they said they were hoping to break ground by January 2009.” Even if Wal-Mart began construction today, a new store would not be open until the summer of 2011.
At one point, Wal-Mart was trying to make a land swap with the Country Club. The land Wal-Mart has targeted is near the town’s old airport, and is near the country club golf course’ fifth fairway.
As far back as 2006, the club’s board of directors were shown plans for a Wal-Mart superstore. The idea was that the retailer would swap 16 acres of its land for 6 acres owned by the country club, which would eliminate holes No. 5 and 7. But that land swap was never consummated.
Then, Wal-Mart cut 36,000 s.f. from its footprint. The country club deal fell through, and the Wal-Mart by the old airport is still on hold, much to the delight of anti-Wal-Mart forces.
It was a positive sign that Wal-Mart reduced its store by 24%, but residents should insist that the original size be trimmed in half. A 75,000 s.f store is still far larger than the Save-A-Lot, Giant Food, Tops, and other grocery stores in Wellsville.
Readers are urged to call the town Supervisor, Darwin Fanton, after business hours at 585-593-1780 ext 203 and leave the following message: “Dear Supervisor Fanton, All will be well in Wellsville without a Wal-Mart. Small towns like yours don’t need large chain stores. Protect your scenic vistas, and promote your locally-owned businesses — but don’t count on corporations who sell you Chinese imports to float your economy.
Be careful how you promote your Empire Zones. There is no added value economically from this project, since it largely will take its sales from existing grocery stores like Tops, Giant, and Save-A-Lot. If you give one penny of public money to this project, you are merely subsidizing the wealthiest retailer in the world. Wal-Mart does not need public welfare.
Wellsville has been losing population, so if you add a huge new capacity for grocery sales, the slice of the pie for all stores is going to get thinner as entrants to the market are added.
At a minimum, you should insist that Wal-Mart shrink its store to 75,000 s.f. If you go with a bigger store, you will get bigger traffic counts and bigger crime statistics. But don’t expect more revenues from such a project. Wal-Mart makes nothing, they’re just another seller to Wellsville’s shrinking consumer base.”