On April 14, 2006, Sprawl-Busters described the Wal-Mart battle in Greece, New York, a community which already as a Wal-Mart discount store, along with a total of six Wal-Marts within 13 miles of the town — including 2 supercenters five miles away in Rochester, New York. Despite this over-saturation of stores, Wal-Mart announced it wanted to build a supercenter in the Northgate Plaza in Greece. The supercenter originally planned for Greece would be 184,212 s.f. The town , in March of 2006, enacted a moratorium on development in the affected area, known as the Dewey Avenue corridor. The only way Wal-Mart could build was to ask the town for a special deal — to be removed from the moratorium. This moratorium was put into place so that the town’s Central Dewey Avenue Corridor Enrichment Task Force could come up with plans for reviving the historic commercial center. Rather than honor the moratorium, and its goals, Wal-Mart sought an exemption to the freeze — in essence, special dispensation — that town officials were not required legally to grant. The plaza would have to be expanded by 40,000 s.f., to produce the size of building that Wal-Mart wanted, directly in contradiction to the historic nature of the surrounding area. “We are hoping the town will reconsider, based on the receipt of our application,” a Wal-Mart spokesman told the Messenger newspaper. “The plaza is half empty right now.” The Northgate Plaza is owned by Widewaters development, which itself has been the subject of many New England battles over big boxes. “We’re better off with the empty buildings, than Wal-Mart,” one neighbor was quoted as saying at the time. Town officials approved the plan in September of 2,007, and the citizens group Residents Against Wal-Mart (RAW) filed a lawsuit the following month. This week, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle reports that citizens will have their day in court on January 31st. The RAW lawsuit charges that the Planning Board and the Zoning Board both failed to adequately review the project. “We feel that this project is going to ruin the neighborhood,” one RAW member told the newspaper. “The town plan indicates that our commercial corridor should be on West Ridge Road, it does not say that corridor should be on Dewey Avenue. Once a big-box has its foot in the door, other stores will come in and want to knock down houses and build other big boxes.” The Dewey Avenue area today is mix of commercial and residential uses — not the appropriate place for an intensive commercial development. Wal-Mart has reduced the store to 146,000s.f. plus a McDonald’s restaurant. Part of the existing Northgate Plaza will have to be torn down to make way for Wal-Mart’s supercenter.
The town of Greece is located along eight miles of Lake Ontario’s south shore, and is bordered on the east by the City of Rochester. The town lies along the “Honeymoon Trail” for couples on their way to Niagara Falls. Its population has actually dipped somewhat since 2000, and stands around 93,200 people today. The Northgate Plaza is 54 years old. In its prime, it had a J.C. Penney’s, and a Woolworths. The plaza has been large vacant for years, but currently is occupied by a several small businesses and a Big Lots store. Like many dead malls, the area has a chance now to reinvent itself, perhaps with a mix of small businesses, office space, and some housing. A more appropriately scaled mixed use development would make more sense than a big box superstore, which eventually will slip out of Greece, and leave the community once again with a dead store on its hands. In this case, as soon as Wal-Mart opens its supercenter in Greece, the existing Wal-Mart discount store will close. So all Greece gets is another grocery store, which will largely ‘transfer’ its sales from existing grocery stores in the community. Wal-Mart has not yet filed for its permits, but the town clearly has “greased” all the skids to let Wal-Mart in. Readers are urged to send an email to Greece Supervisor John Auberger at http://www.townofgreece.org/AboutOurTown/. Tell Supervisor Auberger: “If you approve a Wal-Mart supercenter at Northgate Plaza, the Wal-Mart discount store on Elm Ridge Center Drive will close. The Wal-Mart supercenter on Hudson Drive in Rochester is less than 5 miles away. This is not new jobs and revenues for Greece. This is going to shut down an existing grocery or two, and bring no added value to the community. Reinvent that plaza with some apartments, small businesses and offices. Make it more neighborhood compatible. You’re just inviting in the next dead anchor store.”