Wal-Mart’s efforts to get a special rezoning deal for a project in New York state isn’t going over well with the locals. On June 1, 2009, Sprawl-Busters wrote about the small community of Penfield, New York, and its battle with a big retailer. Penfield is a community of roughly 35,600 people. The town is celebrating its bicentennial this year, and part of the celebration is the Town Hall Open golf tournament. Penfield calls itself the “Town of Planned Progress,” but it appears that land use planning is in short supply in Penfield. In June of 2008, as part of its planning process a group of residents participated in a brainstorming session on the town’s weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. On the ‘strength’ side was the “quietness of Town – commercial uses are geared towards residents, not the region.” On the “weakness” side was “no town center” and “too much growth.” Despite such statements, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle newspaper reported last June that town officials were considering rezoning residential land to commercial, to accommodate a Wal-Mart superstore. There are already 7 Wal-Mart stores within 20 miles of Penfield, including the Wal-Mart discount store in Webster 4 miles away, and the Wal-Mart supercenter 8 miles away in Macedon, New York. There’s a second Wal-Mart supercenter 8 miles away in Rochester, New York. But now a real estate company called the DiMarco Group is asking that their parcel be rezoned from residential to commercial, despite the fact that the property abuts residential homes. If the Town Board in Penfield forgets its quiet town goals — these homeowners could have a Wal-Mart superstore as a nightlight. So concerned are the neighbors, that they went to a strategy session nine months ago sponsored by the Citizens for a Better BayTowne, named aftere the nearby BayTowne Plaza. At the meeting, one homeowner who is also a builder, told the residents, “I don’t think there’s anyone who would have built there if they knew a Wal-Mart was going to go up behind their house. It’s the kiss of death for all our homes if this building gets built.” The DiMarco Group was accused of “trying to cram 10 pounds of manure into a five-pound bag” by proposing a megastore abutting residential neighborhoods. The town’s director of developmental services came to the meeting, and assured homeowners that the project had a long road to travel before the proposal was finalized, and that the town had made no commitments to the developer. The DiMarco Group is working on a Environmental Impact Law, and Penfield officials will have to decide if this huge project must follow the rules of the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). One town supervisor showed up at the resident’s meeting, and told neighbors he wanted to “get all the facts on the table” about the project before jumping to conclusions. “We’re going to let the process play out,” he said. That’s municipal code language for let the project happen. This week the Democrat and Chronicle reports that “a lively and often contentious meeting” took place over the DiMarco project and Wal-Mart. The developer told residents that he needed the Wal-Mart superstore as a magnet for other businesses to his plaza. But the neighbors say they are adamantly opposed to rezoning another 26 acres of land that would be appended to the existing mall. Penfield’s Supervisor, Tony LaFountain, sent a letter last month to the developer, indicating his opposition to rezoning the land, and encouraging DiMarco to find another way to revitalize BayTowne Plaza. The meeting with upset neighbors took place in an empty storefront in the plaza. DiMarco indicated that he will be meeting with the Penfiled Town Board on February 24th to make his case. Strong residential opposition is expected to follow DiMarco whenever he appears in Penfield.
The town of Penfield is still working on updating its Comprehensive Plan, which it does every ten years. Retail trade is the fourth largest employment sector in town, with nearly 2,000 residents working in retail in 2000. The community is mostly residential in nature, with 40% of its land uses being single family residential, and only 3% commercial. 14% of the land uses in Penfield are still agricultural. The retail trade area for Penfield is already saturated with big box stores. There are several Wal-Marts located just minutes away. An even bigger issue than the obvious saturation is the fact that it makes no sense to put a huge retail project right in a residential neighborhood. Wal-Mart is truly the ‘kiss of death’ for residential property values. Developers like to talk about how they can ‘buffer’ residential uses from a megastore — but the lights, the traffic, the noise and the crime cannot be buffered with walls or berms. Wal-Mart is simply incompatible with residential properties, and in this case, any rezoning should be appealed by homeowners through the courts. Any homeowner that has to live this close to a Wal-Mart would have an easy time asking for a property tax abatement. But homeowners would rather hold the value of their property in the first place, and not see it eroded by superstores. Readers are urged to email Town Supervisor Tony LaFountain at: [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Supervisor LaFountain, The proposed Wal-Mart supercenter in Penfield is completely inharmonious with the residential properties that abut it, and contrary to the goal of protecting your ‘quiet town’ with its commercial uses that fit the local area, not regional. These were some of the strengths of your town as expressed in the June, 2008 community profile. There is no compelling need for another Wal-Mart supercenter, given the proximity of their superstores in Macedon and Rochester. This proposal is all about market share — plain and simple. Wal-Mart’s opening will have a severe impact on stores like Price Chopper, and Wegmen’s. People are not going to flock to Penfield to shop, because they already have a superstore near them. If Wal-Mart wants to come to Penfield, make them find a piece of commercially zoned land. It’s not fair to the neighbors to allow this corporation to pull a major bait-n-switch by rezoning residential land. Good land use planning can be a win for neighbors, and a win for the developer. But this is a win/lose proposition, and definitely out of step for the ‘Town of Planned Progress.’ Please continue to tell Mr. DiMarco that he needs to find another ‘cure’ for BayTowne Plaza besides a super Wal-Mart. ”