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Wal-Mart's draft environmental statement accepted

It looks like the town Planning Board will give the Wal-Mart supercenter project the first of the approvals it needs to go forward.

The board Tuesday accepted Wal-Mart's draft of the final environmental impact statement as complete, triggering a final public review period.

The board also scheduled a meeting at 3 p.m. Dec. 28 to vote on a "positive finding," which is its certification that the proposed 185,000-square-foot store on the site of the current Lockport Mall will not have a negative effect on the environment.
If the board were to issue a negative finding, that would kill the project, but Chairman Lester J. Robinson Jr. said, "Things would have to change drastically to go negative on this."
If the finding is positive, Town Attorney Daniel J. Seaman said, two other approvals -- for the site plan and a special-use permit -- would likely be voted on within 60 days.
The environmental approval also would clear the way for the town Zoning Board of Appeals to vote on 39 variances needed either for the supercenter or the stand-alone Bon-Ton store that would adjoin it.
A special-use permit is needed for any project of more than 120,000 square feet in a business zone, Seaman said. That provision was added to the zoning ordinance in 2004, after it first became known that Wal-Mart was interested in the mall site for a supercenter, which would combine one of its regular discount stores with a full-service supermarket.
Wal-Mart is to acquire most of the mall property, except for the Bon-Ton store, from General Growth Properties in a swap that would see General Growth take over the existing Wal-Mart about a quarter-mile south on South Transit Road. General Growth would continue as the landlord of the Bon-Ton and would have the job of filling the current Wal-Mart.
After a discussion lasting about an hour and consisting mostly of correcting typographical errors and making minor changes in wording, the Planning Board voted unanimously to accept the draft of the impact statement.
Town Planner Andrew C. Reilly said copies of the document will be printed and mailed to state agencies and also made available for public review in Town Hall by Thursday or Friday. The full text is also to be posted by Friday on the town's Web site at www.elockport.com.
State law requires a final public review period of at least 10 days, but there will be no further public hearing or public comment period at any meeting, Seaman said, although written comments will be accepted.

Reilly said the review period is mostly for the benefit of state agencies. The Planning Board's last public hearing on the project was held March 30; the Zoning Board's hearing on the variances has gone through two installments and is to continue at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 27.
Robinson said his board has given the project an intense review.

"We had a false start about two years ago [after Wal-Mart withdrew its first application]. We've gone over a year on it, and pretty thoroughly," he said.
The Dec. 28 session will be preceded by a 2:30 p.m. meeting of the Planning Board's architectural review subcommittee. One of its members, Rodney Conrad, said there could be some alteration to the exterior look of the supercenter.
"It's going to be small, minor changes, nothing structural," Conrad said.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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