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Town Board rejects Walmart report on environmental impact of store

Walmart's latest environmental report on its proposed Orchard Park store is incomplete, the Town Board said Wednesday night.

It is the fourth time the board has rejected the draft environmental impact statement as inadequate in addressing the possible impacts of the supercenter.

In addition to not responding properly to all of the 22 points brought up by the board the last time it turned down the impact statement, the retailer has changed things that were not in dispute, town officials said.

Councilwoman Nancy Ackerman said she met eight times with Walmart representatives in the past several years to come up with design features for the big-box store, then discovered an entirely different exterior Tuesday morning after poring over the report that the company submitted.

"The Town Board initially thought this was a good idea," she said, adding that there was potential for a congenial working relationship.

But after receiving the latest submission Dec. 9, with 30 days that included two holidays to review and issue a response, it was clear that town officials were perturbed.

"The Town Board has been aggrieved. The public has been aggrieved," Ackerman said.

Among the issues deemed lacking were parking, lighting and traffic. The town building inspector is requiring a second means of access for safety reasons, and the town wants the document to address building a road connecting to South Benzing Road.

"It's extremely clear there is a major disconnect," said Tom Lucey, the civil engineer for the project.

He asked to meet with the board at its next work session so the board and Walmart could work on solutions to the issues. But board members refused, saying they wanted him to work with staff members instead. Ackerman said she would coordinate the meetings.

Kelly Pronti, an attorney for the project, acknowledged that the site plan changed, but she said the developer believes it is a better design.

All but one resident who spoke at Wednesday's meeting said they were against Walmart, but many frequent critics of the project and the board praised board members for thoroughly examining the document.

Board members and residents had some emotional exchanges during the meeting, and at least one critic remained unmoved. He maintained the rezoning of the property to commercial was done "surreptitiously," and he asked the board to change it.

"Retro-zone the Walmart parcel back to the much needed industrial designation and prevail upon Walmart to revisit their vacated McKinley location instead of leaving a massive junkyard at that juncture of Hamburg and Orchard Park," said Lou Boehm of Lake Avenue.

e-mail: bobrien@buffnews.com

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