Another Wal-Mart superstore plan is shrinking. On September 28, 2007, Sprawl-Busters reported that the town of Wellsville, New York was up against a Wal-Mart. 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. 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. According to the Wellsville Daily Reporter, the event, which was held at the local VFW, attracted several hundred people, including members of the Wellsville Citizens for Responsible Development. Several members of the Town Board, which will make the final permitting decision in this case, were at the 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 told the newspaper, “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 several weeks ago to let the Board know 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. This project will have 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. This week, the Daily Reporter said that the Wellsville Town Board has set February 11th at the date for a public hearing on the extension of water and sewer lines to the Wal-Mart site, which has no infrastructure. “We’ve been petitioned for extension of Water District 4 and Sewer District 3 … to extend them to cover the development of the old airport area,” the town supervisor told the newspaper. “They appear to have all the signatures (needed).” Wal-Mart wants to open the superstore in 2010. To make the store more palatable locally, Wal-Mart has reduced the size from 148,000 s.f. to about 112,000 s.f.. The New York State Department of Transportation has apparently not yet finished its traffic analysis of the developer’s traffic report. The DOT is studying two intersections near the site. Wal-Mart has organized an “astro-roots” group called Wellsville Wants Wal-Mart, to counter efforts being organized by the Wellsville Citizens for Responsible Development. WCRD says it wants 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.
It’s a positive sign that Wal-Mart has 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 email the Wellsville Mayor James Cretekos at: [email protected] with the following message: “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. Wellsville has been losing population, so if you add a huge new capacity for grocery sales, the slices of the pie for all stores is going to get thinner as entrants to the market are added. You will get more crime and traffic — 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.”