Suddenly, without any advance notice, Wal-Mart has pulled out of a planned superstore project in the town of Evans, New York, which is located in southern Erie County, bordering on Lake Erie. The town includes the Village of Angola with a combined population of approximately 20,000 people. Wal-Mart’s overnight departure has left Evans officials embarrassed and disappointed. But for area residents opposed to the superstore, Wal-Mart’s farewell is a happy ending to a very bad movie. Three years ago, activists in Angola wrote to Sprawl-Busters: “In September, 2006, we formed a group called ‘Friends of the Grandview’ to work on preserving and renovating the 1952 Grandview Drive-in movie theater. This facility is one of a kind. At nearly 120 feet wide, it’s one of the largest screens in the USA! It’s the only one in the USA to have retail space under the screen tower (maybe the world). It was the first in New York to have Radio Sound. First in USA to show a movie in stereo sound in the USA in the 60’s. None of us question the need for a general department store to replace the long lost Ames store in Derby, New York. The key question is: where would one fit without loss of existing stores and businesses and damage to our community? Would it not make more sense to build on vacant land, rather than destroy a viable and operating landmark drive-in that the community clearly wants preserved and renovated? And let’s not forget our Jubilee grocery Store. If Wal-Mart builds there, it’s history! Considering it’s the only one between Orchard Park and Gowanda, we would not want to loose the choice of shopping there. We have collected around 1,500 signatures from people upset the Grandview did not open this season, and demanding it be renovated and reopened next year… Repeated attempts at contacting the owners and even having an attorney contact the owners brought no response. Wal-Mart made an appearance at the town board meeting and has expressed interest in tearing down our Drive-in and building a 130,000 s.f. supercenter! The Jubilee Foods Store is right on the Property. We doubt Wal-Mart would actually be dumb enough to purchase a property before they knew they would even be allowed to build anyway! The property is located at the corner of Route 5 and Lake Street in Angola, it is surrounded by homes on the south, to the east is a new Church with senior housing behind it, to the north east is a school and athletic field, and north of it borders a creek, and just beyond a nice new home in what they thought was a secluded area, now to be located next to a Wal-Mart loading dock, as well as another home and the VFW hall.” Since 2005, local officials in Evans have done everything Wal-Mart wanted. A year ago, the Evans Planning Board issued findings under the State Environmental Quality Review that approved the Wal-Mart project. After evaluating the environmental, economic and social impacts of the proposed Wal-Mart supercenter project, the Planning Board concluded that it was “adopting the feasible, prudent and practicable alternative… that allows for mitigation of all environmental impacts to the greatest extent reasonable and practicable.” The Board admitted that the character of the site would change “in that a vacant drive-in theater will be replaced with a large retail use.” The Board also found that “the surrounding area will be impacted by an increase in traffic,” and that “adjacent residences to the north and south may experience a noticeable increase in noise and light from the project if not properly mitigated.” The Board negotiated with Wal-Mart to get a unique looking store. “The building shall represent a design unique to the Town of Evans, and not a typical corporate big box design.” To protect the homes located on the northern edge of this project, town officials said Wal-Mart would construct a berm and a ten foot high fence — proof that the project is incompatible with surrounding residences. Compatible uses don’t require fences and berms. When The Sun newspaper announced several days ago that Wal-Mart was abandoning the Drive-In site, local officials were caught off-guard. “This was totally unexpected,” said the Chair of the Town of Evans Planning Board. “The planning board has spent the better part of the last three years doing its due diligence to review all the aspects of the Wal-Mart application and plans. We wanted to make sure that if built, this would be the best possible project, would enhance the character of the town and would have minimal environmental impacts to the surrounding area. We had been working with them, which is why this just caught us completely off guard.” The Town’s supervisor told the newspaper that “Sam Walton’s grandson” had made the decision to shut down the project. “Do I think the economy had something to do with this?” the supervisor asked. “Of course. I also would not be surprised if the opening of the new Wal-Mart in Hamburg (N.Y.) didn’t have an impact on this.” Now the town is left with a Drive-In movie that has been demolished, and 17 acres of land with no buyer in sight. The town’s five years of work with Wal-Mart has turned into something of a Horror Show for local officials. “We appealed to Wal-Mart to not do this,” one local official said.
After the announcement of the death of this project, Wal-Mart issued one of its standard disclaimers to the media. “We thank the residents and the town planning department, supervisor and the town board for their collective efforts throughout this process. We remain committed to growing our business in Western New York and will continue to look for opportunities to provide good jobs that give our associates the chance to build careers.” Sprawl-Busters has written about several earlier examples of Wal-Mart going after former Drive-In theaters. The landowners of these properties stand to make millions off the sale of their land, but residents are usually outraged that these properties are being destroyed. In this case, there are surrounding homes, and some obvious environmental issues to consider. A lawsuit had been filed to stop this superstore, but not that lawsuit is moot. The Jubilee grocery store in Angola, which reportedly has spent money to renovate, would likely have closed if a Wal-Mart supercenter had been built next door. The Friends of the Grandview lost their movie screen — but the Wal-Mart sequel will not be showing at a theater near Angola any time soon. Readers are urged to email Evans Supervisor Francis Pordum at: [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Supervisor Pordum, Your Wal-Movie has a happy ending. The town of Evans, and the Village of Angola narrowly dodged an economic bullet that would have damaged the local economy and the character of your small communities. You are fortunate that Wal-Mart ended the film — rather than letting it continue. You now know the time and money the town spent on a corporation that makes decisions from Arkansas without your input. I hope this bad movie leaves you with a better understanding of why community-based economic development is preferable to chasing national chain stores. Wal-Mart never was a jobs and taxes project, because its sales largely would have come from existing businesses. But the final scene has been changed, and the ending is more upbeat than expected. Be thankful for that. The real reason Wal-Mart pulled out can be found in Hamburg, New York, where the retailer opened up a new superstore 11 miles away on October 27th. That’s why you won’t get a superstore in Evans — because the market is already saturated.”