Monday, March 10, 2008

Wal-Mart Throws in the Towel-Journal News

In Saturday's Rockland Journal News, the paper puts the final nail in the Monsey Wal-Mart coffin: "The plans for a Wal-Mart Supercenter at a closed drive-in theater in Monsey have been withdrawn by the prospective developer. The National Realty and Development Corp. of Purchase faced concerns of the town and the public over the ability of existing roads and sewer lines to handle the demands of the 215,000-square-foot big-box store.' The developer's letter says it all: "We believe the project would have been a great success and huge improvement over the existing conditions," Jerrold Bermingham, executive vice president of the company, said in a Thursday letter to the town. It had become apparent, though, that "the concerns of the township cannot be met and the project will not be approved," Bermingham wrote."

The reason, of course, that the Town's terms could not be met owes more to the organizing effort of the Alliance and its allies than the sheer technical compliance difficulties. If a political will exists for a development there's usually a great deal of leeway given to traffic and other concerns. Bermingham's observation here is correct, but somewhat limited in scope: "He said in an interview yesterday that "the traffic generated by the retail store would have gone on what is already a busy road, and there were also concerns about sewer capacity. I think those (issues) were really it." The environmental data is necessary, but not sufficient absent the political will.

Ultimately the project's fate rested with the Orthodox community in Monsey, and its organized rabbinical leadership simply didn't want this kind of dangerous intrusion in the middle of their neighborhood; and aside from language, religious and cultural differences, Monsey was no different than the other communities where we have successfully rallied local opposition against the Walmonster and other box stores.

Finally, in cases like these, the elected officials play an important role. In Ramapo, the supervisor, Chris St. Lawrence, acted judiciously by waiting to gauge the community's pulse. Once he understood where the Monsey folks stood, and once he was able to take a hard look at the Ketcham-generated traffic analysis we provided the Town, he acted swiftly to mobilize against the project; even going so far as to make it a pillar of his re-election platform. As he told the paper: "This is a regional store," St. Lawrence said yesterday, "and you need to have a regional solution to traffic. Route 59 is a two-lane highway." Planners were concerned that traffic would back up on Route 59 and on Saddle River Road, leading to congestion on the side streets.

The St. Lawrence opposition, when added to that of newly elected assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, Spring Valley Mayor Darden and Legislator David Fried, meant that there was no political support for the project. And our Yiddish ads continued to bolster the Monsey community with the idea that its united opposition would bear fruit.

The Journal News gives us a shout out as well: "Where there is defeat there is also victory, and in this case it's in the eyes of Richard Lipsky, spokesman for the Neighborhood Retail Alliance.
"We are really pleased that the developer saw the handwriting on the wall," said Lipsky, whose group represented Monsey-area shop owners since the plan was unveiled more than two years ago. "I think it demonstrated that the site was not a good site for a development of that size," Lipsky said."

Indeed it was not. And now the Town is examining alternative development plans for the site: "St. Lawrence said he would like to see a mixed zone for residential and light retail, in what he thought could be "a village square" atmosphere." We hope that whatever goes into the site adds to the quality of life of Monsey and its surrounding communities-we know that Wal-Mart wouldn't, and as Monsey folks might say (in Yiddish, of course); "Go in good health."