Lockport, New York already has a Wal-Mart, so the town is basically being asked to swap the smaller store for a larger supercenter. The proposed Wal-Mart supercenter is on the agenda again in Lockport — back by unpopular demand. Tomorrow night, the town’s planning board will give local residents the chance to sound off again on the Wal-Mart plan. There was a similar hearing last year, but the project has been locked down in Lockport for over a year, with very little communication back and forth between town and retailer. Citizen opposition forced Wal-Mart to withdraw its original plan for a 203,000-s.f., 24-hour supercenter at an old mall site. Wal-Mart presented officials with a reworked proposal, that was more amenable to town officials, but did not garner the support of the Lockport Citizens for Smart Growth. Wal-Mart reduced the supercenter to 185,600 s.f., increased the back buffer to allow a 10-foot wall that would “protect” adjacent residential backyards from 50 to 100 feet, extended the wall northward to “shield” homes on another road, and added a 40-foot-wide ”detention pond” between the back of the store and the protective wall, and added other minor enhancements. The existing mall will be redeveloped, with the exception of the 81,000 s.f. Bon-Ton store, which would share Wal-Mart’s 1,452-space parking lot. Wal-Mart also dropped its plans for a gas station in their parking lot. Residents still wanted Wal-Mart to locate closer to the street, which would give residents a larger rear setback. ”If they’d move the store forward so they’d have parking on the sides and more green space in back, less noise, I think the neighbors would be less freaked by it.” one resident said, more than two and a half years ago. Several weeks ago, Wal-Mart asked the Planning Board to host the new meeting. Negotiations had halted between the retailer and General Growth, who owns the mall site, but the issue was brought back in front of the board in late August. According to the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal, the town is looking favorably on the Wal-Mart plan — after several years of back and forth controversy. At tomorrow night’s meeting, Wal-Mart will present the company’s proposed site plan, and members of the public will be able to comment again on its effects. The planning board has to act on a special use permit and a subdivision of the mall lot, where mall owner General Growth plans to share some of the premises with Wal-Mart. Once the planning board has acted, the zoning board must act on variances that would allow Wal-Mart to finally build. The mall-sharing arrangement has left town officials unclear about how many variances the project actually needs. “In the end, there really is only a handful of meaningful variances (required),” one town official told the newspaper. Half of the variances will be needed by Wal-Mart, and half by General Growth because of the subdivision. Each business is supposed to have certain setbacks, and parking minimums. “These are the no-brainer variances,” the town official said. The planning board could agree to waive some of the requirements of the overlay district, which would weaken the aesthetic standards set for the South Transit Road district. For example, there is a requirement on the overlay district that 25% of a storefront be windows. But Wal-Mart says it can’t have more than 17% windows because of the way the interior of the store is arranged. Another overlay requirement is for one curb cut, but because of the huge scale of Wal-Mart, town officials think two curb cuts are needed to prevent traffic bottlenecks. The public hearing is for the planning board to take last minute public comments on the site plan, but it appears that the hearing is largely a pro forma exercise, and town officials have already reached a conclusion on this project.
Sprawl-Busters visited Lockport in 2005, when local residents were beginning their effort to stop this store. The Lockport Citizens For Smart Growth have successfully held off the project for nearly 3 years, and forced Wal-Mart to modify its project, shrink the store, and toss out the gas station. It’s difficult to stop big box stores proposed on land that is already degraded — as in this old mall. This site is not appropriate for a large store because of the nearby homes abutting the property. If the Wal-Mart had been proposed at the same size as the existing Bon Ton, neighborhood opposition probably would have been scaled down as well. Readers are urged to contact the Lockport Town Board by leaving them a phone message at (716) 439-9520, or send them an email at: http://www.elockport.com/town_board_crocker.html. Tell them, “The Wal-Mart supercenter on South Transit Road is still way too large. Don’t give them variances from the overlay district. You already have a Wal-Mart discount store on South Transit, and if this superstore opens, that one will close, and you will have another empty store on your hands. Protect the neighbors, no special zoning deals for Wal-Mart.”