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Zoning law waivers urged for Wal-Mart

The Wal-Mart supercenter project won't need nearly as many variances if the Planning Board grants waivers from some of the town's zoning ordinances, the town planner said Tuesday.

Andrew C. Reilly briefed the board on the procedure it should follow in granting a special-use permit to the retail giant for a new 185,000-square-foot combination discount store and supermarket on the site of the nearly vacant Lockport Mall, which Wal-Mart is to acquire.

Reilly and Town Attorney Daniel E. Seaman said the special-use permit will include conditions of operation that the town would be able to enforce in court if Wal-Mart violated them. Reilly said Wal-Mart would have to follow the site plan, which the Planning Board also would approve, in order to obtain a building permit, and if it builds differently, the town would deny a certificate of occupancy for the store.
The Planning Board was briefed by Reilly and Seaman on the criteria for the permit and agreed to reconvene at 3 p.m. Feb. 13 to resume the discussion. Chairman Richard Forsey said he didn't expect a decision that day. However, the board has a meeting set for 7:30 p.m. Feb. 21.
Reilly said the board has the power to waive some requirements of the town's commercial corridor overlay district, a special type of business zoning which applies on the South Transit Road strip where the mall stands.
If it does so, the Zoning Board of Appeals, which is dealing with Wal-Mart's applications for 41 variances, will have far fewer to face.
"Twenty-five of them are [overlay district] stuff," Reilly told reporters after a Planning Board work session. "We took a conservative approach and made them apply for both [variances and waivers]. It will still be more than 10 [variances]."
He said the major variance issues really boil down to four: green space, the distance the store would sit from Shimer Drive, and the number and size of parking spaces.
Wal-Mart is about 60 spaces short of having enough to comply with town zoning laws, which call for 927 spaces. It wants to paint lines marking spaces of 9 1/2 by 18 feet, while the town's law calls for spaces of 9 by 20 feet. But Reilly said Wal-Mart is proposing 24-foot-wide driveways between the rows, while the town requires only 22 feet.
The store would come to within 57 feet of Shimer Drive; the law requires a 75-foot setback. And the site has 16 percent open space; the law calls for a 25 percent allocation.
The much more recent overlay district terms let the Planning Board decide that Wal-Mart came close enough to complying to be allowed to proceed with its project, Reilly said. Most of the waiver-worthy provisions deal with architectural and landscaping provisions.
David J. Seeger, an attorney hired by the anti-Wal-Mart Citizens for Smart Growth, wrote a letter Tuesday to the Planning Board in which he insisted that Wal-Mart needs three special-use permits and that the board should hold a public hearing on some "extreme difficulty waivers" and a use variance.
Planning Board Chairman Richard Forsey said Wal-Mart has made no such applications. He said he's never heard of an "extreme difficulty waiver."


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