It’s an axiom in zoning cases that if people are clashing at public hearings, something is wrong with the proposal. Good land use planning can be a win-win for neighbors and developers — but that’s not the way Wal-Mart opearates. Last night in East Patchogue, New York, there was another Wal-Mart clash. On October 10, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart had announced plans to build a new store in East Patchogue, on Long Island. There are currently 5 Wal-Mart stores within 15 miles of this site, including the Wal-Mart in Centereach, New York, less than 8 miles away, and the Wal-Mart in Middle Island, New York less than 9 miles away. When Wal-Mart first unveiled its plans in September of 2008 it said, “The proposed store will benefit this Long Island community by offering low prices and shopping convenience for consumers, as well as providing new jobs and tax revenue.” Wal-Mart began a public relations campaign to support their proposal to build in East Patchogue. The company issued a press release which read: “Wal-Mart announced it has filed plans to build a new 120,000 square foot store in East Patchogue, New York, at the northeast corner of Hospital Road and Sunrise Highway. Plans were filed with the Town of Brookhaven and are in the early stages of consideration. The new store will provide approximately 200-250 new jobs. The average hourly wage for regular full-time associates in New York is $11.53/hour. Both full-time and part-time associates are eligible for benefits including medical, 401 (k), profit sharing, stock purchases and bonus incentives. The proposed store also is expected to pay tens of thousands of dollars in local property taxes annually. ‘Wal-Mart is excited to serve the East Patchogue area. Shoppers now more than ever want the opportunity to shop at Wal-Mart without having to drive long distances to do so,’ said Philip H. Serghini, Senior Manager for Wal-Mart Public Affairs.” Wal-Mart has created a website for Long Island, which includes a form for visitors to complete, which allows them to join an effort to lobby public officials for the store. Entitled SHOW YOUR SUPPORT, the form says: “Please include me as a Supporter of Wal-Mart! Keep me informed about Wal-Mart’s efforts to offer customers Convenience, Choice and Low Prices. You can use my name and count on me.” All this community organizing didn’t seem to work. In early October, Wal-Mart lost a battle in Riverhead, New York, which is 21 miles from this site. The town of Riverhead had its approval of a Wal-Mart supercenter overturned. The Riverhead store, at 169,548 sf., would have been the first supercenter on crowded Long Island. In October, Sprawl-Busters received the following letter in opposition to the East Patchogue store: “I live in the community of East Patchogue. It is located about 50 miles east of New York City on Long Island. I first came to your website in 1999 when my family and I took our fight to the community and together we fought the building of a strip mall and numerous 1 bedroom apartments behind our home. Fortunately we won and were able to have Reckson Associates (at the time the largest private developer on Long Island) back down. Unfortunately we now have a new fight at a different location around the block but still in our community which it all comes down to. I am now 22 and do not want to see my community fall apart knowing Wal-Mart only takes and uses a community leaving it in ruins. Our community is a middle class and high quality of life location. Just as Reckson Associates did, Wal-Mart seems to have proposed the wrong kind of development for the area — confusing it perhaps to communities to the east. The Patchogue and Bellport areas have been actively pursuing revitalization efforts and this will most definitely bring them to a screeching halt. I have always been an advocate for small town values and keeping Main Street alive. Many people in my generation may not feel the same way but I understand the importance and will fight this for as long as it takes. My education in college involved the study of globalization, specifically International trade and transportation. I have learned about what Wal-Mart is made of, how it is run and how it ticks. I have incorporated projects that I have completed throughout college and tailored them to ideas that reverse what Wal-Mart has done- focusing on exporting instead of importing from China etc. I remember running across your website almost 10 years ago when I fought the last major project that threatened our community and it made a big impression on me. I have grown up in my community, built my Eagle Scout project in my community and I want to save it so that I can continue to live in my community.” Last night in East Patchogue, Newsday reports that the Wal-Mart hearing turned “raucous.” Brookhaven Town Hall was flooded with yellow “Stop Wal-Mart” signs, and supporters toted blue “We Want Wal-Mart” signs. The pro-Wal-Mart side said East Patchogue is hurting for retail businesses, but Wal-Mart opponents (whom Newsday called ‘protestors’) warned of a traffic nightmare near the area’s hospital. Local officials are considering a zoning change that would give the Wal-Mart project less land to build on and require new plans from the developers. In the end, the town board extended the hearing and left the public comment period open. The board next meets on June 9th. According to the Town’s Supervisor, opponents of the project outnumbered supporters by 2-1. Wal-Mart’s spokesman told Newsday the opposition to his corporation was a “politically motivated” effort organized by unionized grocery workers. “They are very much against any grocery stores on Long Island from Wal-Mart,” the company spokesman said. The parcel where Wal-Mart would be located is owned by developer La Bonne Vie Associates, which also owns an apartment complex near the site. Opponents of the Wal-Mart charged the developer urged residents from the apartment complex to attend the hearing in support of Wal-Mart. The manager for the La Bonne Vie apartments, told Newsday the residents came to the hearing because “they are in desperate need of local shopping.” By ‘local,’ she means nearby — not locally-owned.
Newsday referred to opponents of the Wal-Mart as “demonstrators” but called the pro-Wal-Mart faction “residents.” A Long Island TV station (WLIW 21) published a three part series called “Leaving Long Island,” which said that young professionals are leaving Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island in record numbers. From 1990 to 2006 the number of 25 to 34 year olds declined on Long Island by 35%, compared to 8% nationwide. “Long Islanders support change to retain young people,” the report said, “to build more affordable housing and to create more vibrant downtowns… .Four in ten of those surveyed said they could imagine themselves living in an apartment, condo or townhouse in a local downtown, a much higher percentage than the number of residents currently living in downtown neighborhoods.” Wal-Mart represents the end of ‘vibrant downtowns.’ East Patchogue is one of the 51 hamlets in the town of Brookhaven, which also contains 8 villages. Brookhaven is the third largest town on Long Island. On March 20, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that homeowners in Rocky Point, Long Island, another of the 51 hamlets of Brookhaven had been fighting big box stores for 8 years. A developer tried to pull a bait and switch between a Lowe’s project — which got mired in litigation — and a Wal-Mart supercenter. A group called the Rocky Point Civic Association has tied the zoning change up in court, and the group has vowed the rezoning “will never happen, and that his association will fight vigorously against the Wal-Mart plan.” Now Brookhaven has a second big box battle on its hands in East Patchogue. Brookhaven already has six Wal-Marts within 20 miles — but none of them are supercenters. Readers are urged to contact Brookhaven Town Supervisor Brian X. Foley by going to: http://www.brookhaven.org/BrianXFoley/tabid/197/Default.aspx. Send him the following message: “Dear Supervisor Foley, Brookhaven and East Patchogue do not need another Wal-Mart project. The big box store for Sunrise Highway should never see the light of day. You have been involved in downtown revitalization efforts. As Vice-Chair of the Economic Development & Education Committee, you helped secure funding for historically important downtown communities. This Wal-Mart project will not help East Patchogue’s downtown. It is totally inconsistent with the goals of your Comprehensive Plan, and out of character with your town. Don’t let this application two and a half times the size of a football field turn into another divisive battle like Rocky Point or Riverhead. Stop suburban sprawl in its tracks, by rejecting Wal-Mart’s application in East Patchogue as too big, and in the wrong location.”