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Walmart plans store at flea market site

The "Super" will stay at 2500 Walden Ave. in Cheektowaga, but the giant caped "flea" that has long adorned the sign at that location will give way to Walmart's iconic golden spark, under developers' plans revealed Wednesday.

The nation's largest retail store announced a proposal to construct a new 183,000-square-foot, 24-hour Supercenter Walmart on the site of the existing Super Flea & Farmers Market. The store would replace Walmart's current Thruway Plaza location, creating 85 new – mostly full-time – jobs, Walmart officials said.

"After careful consideration of what site in Cheektowaga worked best for a new Supercenter, we have decided internally that the development of a store at Walden Avenue is a win-win for us and the community," said William Wertz, Walmart's director of community and media relations.

Although Walmart and the site developer, Benderson Development, still must go through the development process to secure proper approvals from the town before construction can commence, early sentiments from Cheektowaga officials seem to echo Walmart's excitement for the project.

"I was very impressed," said Stanley J. Kaznowski III, Cheektowaga's deputy supervisor, about meeting Walmart officials and hearing their plans during a town work session Tuesday at Cheektowaga Town Hall. "Being a big, multibillion dollar company, they really are concerned with ‘doing it right' for the town."

Added Councilwoman Angela M. Wozniak: "It is an exciting new opportunity that Walmart is looking to put a new store in town. We're going to make sure everything is done in a way that residents prefer."

Residents will get a chance to meet Walmart representatives and review plans for the new store during the company's planned "community open house." The event will be held from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Oct. 29 at the nearby Private Leonard Post VFW, 2450 Walden Ave.

Wertz said the new Supercenter is expected to offer "a full range of items for its customers, including a full line of groceries, consisting of fresh produce, frozen foods, meat and dairy products and organic items."

"We look forward to moving our existing store and adding a full-service grocery division to better serve the residents of Cheektowaga," Wertz added.

Kaznowski assured residents that Cheektowaga leaders will be specifically tuned in to their feedback about the project and plan to make sure residents' concerns are addressed as development moves forward. Some of the early issues, Kaznowski noted, include:

*Identifying potential impacts to the residential neighborhood to the north of the site, namely lighting, truck delivery routes, noise and increased daily traffic flow, as well as ensuring the proper aesthetics and greenspace are included in the development of the site;

*Convincing Walmart to use Cheektowaga businesses, where possible, for its inventory and providing preference to town residents in hiring process; and

*Learning what Benderson's plans are for finding a replacement tenant for the Walmart space at the Thruway Plaza site.

"We still have arrows in our quiver to make them abide by what our residents want," Kaznowski said. He added that, at the same time, town officials will be looking to assist Walmart in any way they can to speed the development process along.

"We're going to work to expedite this," said Kaznowski. "Time is money. Our job is to work toward [helping Walmart in] developing the project in a timely fashion and addressing the needs of the community."

Residents living around the Super Flea site have expressed frustration with problems at the weekend flea market, including criminal activity involving weapons and drugs as well as maintenance, rodents, noise and traffic.

Many of those concerns were addressed sufficiently to gain the support of the Town Board in rezoning the 17.4-acre site at 2480 and 2490-2550 Walden Ave. in December from light manufacturing to general commercial.

There was a good reason for that change, town officials said.

"Walden Avenue is our commerce section," explained Kaz-nowski, adding that the town is actively seeking to increase commercial development – especially along Walden and Broadway – as a way to help relieve the property tax burden on residents.

Kaznowski noted the new Supercenter Walmart would be "fully assessed like every other" property in Cheektowaga and the business would not be receiving any tax incentives from the town. Walmart did not immediately disclose its timetable for the construction of the new store and its planned move from the Thruway Plaza.

The next step in the development process will be the official filing of preliminary development plans with the town. Then, mandatory state environmental reviews would be conducted along with a traffic study. Initial document drafts aren't expected by the town until after Walmart's planned Oct. 29 open house, according to town officials.

"Walmart has assured me it intends to keep our residents informed of its plans for the new Supercenter, which will be important as they move forward," said Cheektowaga Supervisor Mary F. Holtz.

News Business Reporter David Robinson contributed to this report.?email:?