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MOST AT HEARING FAVOR PLAN FOR NEW WAL-MART, SAM'S CLUB

Most of the residents who spoke at a public hearing Wednesday were in favor of a proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter and Sam's Club on Military Road because they believe it would bring the city two things it desperately needs: more jobs and sales tax revenue.

"I feel they'll bring additional revenue and any additional retail on Military Road will only increase the success of Niagara Falls," said Judy Serianni, the general manager of Prime Outlets Mall. "We'd be happy for Wal-Mart to be our neighbors.

Employees of the Wal-Mart in the Town of Niagara, which would be bought by Benderson Development, would all be transferred to the new site once it is built.

"I hope the deal goes through with our Super Wal-Mart," said Sarah Zacher, a 13-year store employee. "Advancement within Wal-Mart is within anyone's reach. (My husband and I) are now both looking forward to our retirements."

The new Wal-Mart would have twice as many jobs -- about 500 -- as the store it would replace.

Other residents said the plan should be supported because as factories and plants close, the service industry is the future of the city's economy.

Benderson's proposal to build the two large chain stores, as well as three restaurants, a gas station and other retail -- totaling 550,000 square feet of development on the site of the former LaSalle High School at 1500 Military Road -- was recently resubmitted to the city Planning Board.

When the plan was originally pitched two years ago, the Planning Board wrote extensive descriptions of each item it was required to investigate under the state Environmental Quality Review Act, such as air, noise and ground water, said Senior City Planner Thomas DeSantis.

He said the board found the project would not create a significant adverse impact, but had failed to check a box on a required document.

"The extent of the mistake was a technicality," DeSantis said.

Last summer, though, the plan was stalled when a State Supreme Court justice ruled in favor of a group called Citizens Against Sprawlmart, which objected to its environmental and economic impacts.

The group's attorney, David Seeger, told the Planning Board that he believes the box was not checked on the environmental review report because it would have forced the board to call for an Environmental Impact Statement.

That would have required further environmental and socioeconomic investigation, he said.

Seeger said if the Planning Board does not order an Environmental Impact Statement again, he will file another lawsuit.

"For every job to be created, there's a job that's going to be lost," said Seeger, who believes the large chain hurts smaller, locally owned companies.

A few others agreed, and some Richmond Avenue residents who live near the proposed site said they are worried about increased traffic and drainage problems associated with a large development.

The Planning Board must now determine whether there are any significant environmental impacts, and whether it will request an Environmental Impact Statement, DeSantis said.

The board is also considering a zoning amendment to allow the 53-acre retail site to be subdivided into four parcels so the Wal-Mart and Sam's Club could be on separate lots for financing and ownership reasons. A vote on both could come as early as May 11.

e-mail: gnorheim@buffnews.com

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