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Opponents of Wal-Mart relish a last opportunity Residents speak out on plan for mall site

Thursday's public hearing was the last chance for residents to speak out on the Wal-Mart Supercenter plan for the Lockport Mall site, and they took full advantage of the opportunity.

Two dozen speakers, almost all opposed to the plan except for a few Wal-Mart employees, told the town Planning Board that the proposed retail and grocery outlet would ruin the quality of life for nearby homeowners, create heavier traffic on already clogged residential streets and stymie the town's hopes to make its commercial corridor more attractive.

Lester J. Robinson Jr., chairman of the Planning Board, said a vote on the project is several months away.

Wal-Mart plans to buy most of the 27.9-acre mall site at South Transit Road and Shimer Drive and demolish most of the existing, largely vacant mall. It would construct a 186,000-square-foot store that would be open round-the-clock, while swapping its current 130,000-square-foot store a quarter-mile to the south to General Growth, the owner of the mall.

Wal-Mart should be sharing a parking lot with the Bon-Ton store, the only survivor in the mall, which would become a stand-alone store, still owned by General Growth. A Wal-Mart pharmacy drive-through lane would be squeezed between the two stores.

"This commercial corner at Transit and Shimer is very important in determining how the Town of Lockport will develop," said Margaret Magno of Badger Drive. "Will it showcase Lockport using a modern, 'new urbanist' approach, where zoning guidelines are enforced and attractive, and walkable business areas enhance the community? Or is it the 1960s 'anything goes' approach?"

"A proposed supercenter allows people to efficiently and effectively shop for both retail and grocery goods at one location, reducing the number of trips they have to make," said Peter Giovenco of Bergmann Associates, a Rochester engineering firm that helped create the plan.

Andrew C. Reilly, the town planner, said the draft environmental-impact statement Wal-Mart submitted as a topic for Thursday's two-hour hearing will be revised with town input based on public comment. Eventually, it will be shaped into a final environmental impact statement.

Town Attorney Daniel E. Seaman said that if the board approves that document, it must move on to a vote on the special-use permit Wal-Mart needs under town ordinances, because its proposed store covers more than 120,000 square feet. He said those votes would not necessarily occur at the same meeting.

The public comment period will continue through April 17, Robinson said. Comments may be mailed to the town Building Inspection Department or e-mailed through the town Web site at www.elockport.com.

Speaker after speaker assailed the Wal-Mart plan for allegedly not complying with the special characteristics of the commercial corridor overlay district the town created to handle planning and zoning issues on South Transit Road, which is Route 78.

Another common theme was that the store is simply too big for the site, while residents on adjacent streets such as Badger and Shimer drives and Corwin and Dorchester roads said noise, fumes from idling tractor-trailers and heavy traffic would spoil their lives.

The rear of the store would be 51 feet from a 8 1/2 -foot masonry wall on the east property line between the mall site and Badger Drive back yards, while the front of the store would be 850 feet from South Transit.

"It is as plain as the nose on your face that moving the store forward would alleviate many of the problems facing the neighbors," said John J. Ottaviano, the City of Lockport corporation counsel, appearing as a lawyer for a group of affected residents.

"Who's going to come and clean the dirt, the dust and the filth that's going to be given?" demanded Erin Nagel of Badger Drive. "Not Wal-Mart. They're not going to come into my back yard and clean up their bags."

"The applicants' claim that nothing can be done with this building to make it comply is untrue," said Norm Gardner of the Concerned Citizens group. "It doesn't necessarily have to be a big, square box."

Wal-Mart's preference is for almost all the parking, 858 of the planned 894 spaces, to be in front of the store. The rest would be along the tire and lube center on the south side.
But David Hadley of Cambridge Drive, practically the only speaker not on the company payroll to support the Wal-Mart plan, said, "I can see no evidence that those people will experience an increased burden. . . . This appears to be a large private business looking to grow in the Town of Lockport. Let's do our best to cooperate with them."

Norm Wilson of Rapids Road said exhaust stacks on tractor-trailers are about 11 1/2 feet high, three feet higher than the wall. "They'd be sitting right next to that wall with the engines running," he said.

Several speakers said Wal-Mart should expand its current store, while others pointed out that Wal-Mart is building a 155,000-square-foot store with a grocery department in Albion, 31,000 square feet smaller than the Lockport plan.

Steve Cleason of APR Engineering, another Rochester firm, said nearby buildings and power lines prevent expansion of the current store.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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