Wal-Mart’s dream of locating a superstore in Rocky Point, Long Island, has crashed on a rocky point. On March 20, 2008 Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart was pushing to build a superstore in Rocky Point, on New York’s Long Island. Rocky Point is one of the 51 hamlets of Brookhaven, New York. Residents in Rocky Point have been fighting big box stores for 8 years, but now the most recent developer tried to do a bait and switch between a Lowe’s project, which got mired in litigation, and a Wal-Mart supercenter. Brookhaven already has six Wal-Marts within 20 miles — but none of them are supercenters. Brookhaven has 323.5 square miles or area, and is the third largest Town in New York State. It’s located in Central Suffolk County, Long Island. Rocky Point is located on the northern edge of Brookhaven, on the banks of Long Island Sound East. The north and south shores of Brookhaven are tall timber areas, covered with oak and maple. The middle section is called the “Pine Barrens,” with stands of scrub oak and scrub pine — an important area for replenishing the town’s water supply. Newsday reported last March that Rocky Point residents were confronting a new enemy in their back yard. For years, this hamlet did battle against a Lowe’s Home Improvement store. A developer called Lerner-Heidenberg Properties, from New Jersey, tried to squeeze in a 169,000 s.f. Lowe’s on Route 25A on roughly 18 acres of land. For many years, the site was used as a drive-in movie theater, but it has been shut down for years, and represents one of the larger pieces of open land in Brookhaven. But instead of building a store, Lerner-Heidenberg ended up building a lawsuit, which went all the way to the State Supreme Court. Lerner-Heidenberg first proposed their Lowe’s project in 2000, but when the town rezoned the land, the developer filed a lawsuit in 2002, charging that Brookhaven had intentionally put off voting on the site plan so that the land could be rezoned. The State Supreme Court ruled that Brookhaven acted legally — but the developer pressed its case onward to the Appellate Court, and in February of 2007, that court ruled that there must be a trial in the case. This means that Brookhaven must spend a considerable amount of time and money just to defend its rezoning. Knowing this, Lerner-Heidenberg approached the town with a settlement idea: drop the 169,000 s.f. Lowe’s, and replace it with a 135,000 s.f. Wal-Mart. An attorney representing the developer, told Newsday, “The settlement, we thought, represented a useful alternative.” The developer has promised that if the town accepts the Wal-Mart deal, they will drop their lawsuit. Wal-Mart, per usual, denied that it had any plans for a Rocky Point store, and said there was “no announced store” at this time, but left the door open by saying, “that could change down the road.” But local residents don’t a Wal-Mart here, or, down the road. Drew Martin, the president of the Rocky Point Civic Association, which is against the plan, depicted Wal-Mart as a “market killer” for small businesses in the Rocky Point trade area. “We’re not opposed to something that generates revenue for our school district, but it’s got to be something responsible,” Martin told Newsday. The town councilwoman who represents Rocky Point, came to the anti-Wal-Mart rally. “What do you want,” the newspaper quoted her as saying, “a store the size of four football fields and everything else boarded up with plywood? Is that the trade-off. It’s not one my community is willing to take.” This week, eight months later, Wal-Mart has finally thrown itself off Rocky Point. The Long Island Business News says that Lerner-Heidenberg Properties has given up on the Wal-Mart project. The store, which was now down to 105,000 s.f. on the former driving range will not be a Wal-Mart. The giant retailer has pulled out of the plan — no reason given — leaving the developer with its second failed project. That leaves a state Supreme Court decision on changing the zoning from recreational to retail still pending in the courts. But this New Jersey developer seems to be very flexible, and according to the Business News, has come up with a third possible tenant: Target. Brookhaven officials will reportedly be getting a third plan from the developer, this time for a 167,000 s.f. Super Target. But the box-weary town council in Brookhaven doesn’t think a Target is so super either. Councilwoman Jane Bonner was thrilled that Wal-Mart pulled out, but Target is just more of the same. “We still haven’t seen any proposals that will meet the needs of the community” Bonner told the Business News.
Developers rely on litigation to achieve what they cannot by regulation. Even when developers know that the community does not want them, and has rezoned property to prevent them from sprawling over their town, they continue to push, and use the threat of costly litigation as a blunt instrument. In this case, the town of Brookhaven has already prevailed in Supreme Court, and is likely to prevail in a court trial. But it will cost the town a lot of money and staff time. The developer is hoping that by upping the ante, they can wear the town down, and make them put their pocketbook ahead of good land use planning. Readers are urged to email Brookhaven’s Supervisor, Brian X. Foley, at http://www.brookhaven.org/BrianXFoley/tabid/197/Default.aspx, with the following message: “Supervisor Foley, I urge you to reject Lerner-Heidenberg, switch from Lowe’s to Wal-Mart to Target. Three strikes and you’re out. This is like choosing the evil of three lessers. Rocky Point doesn’t need any of these big box stores. You already have six Wal-Marts within 20 miles of Brookhaven. As the Vice-Chair of the town’s Economic Development & Education Committee, you have worked hard to promote downtown communities. You also led the way to use Greenways Fund to preserve wetlands and stream corridors. Brookhaven rezoned the land Lerner wanted. They sued you, and you won in Supreme Court. Stick with your case, and stand by the residents of Rocky Point, who don’t want to “settle” for a Target either. As Councilwoman Bonner has said, none of these proposals meet the needs of residents in Rocky Point.”