Monday, April 03, 2006

Developer Defends Wal-Mart

The developer of the proposed Rockland Super Wal-Mart responded to critics (including us) who claim the store will have a detrimental impact of the surrounding neighborhoods and county as a whole. In today’s Journal News Jerrold Birmingham, managing director of the National Realty & Development Corp., had this to say:

Birmingham said the site was well-suited for this type of development because it had the right zoning and existing water and sewer lines. He said that in addition to creating a positive visual impact — the site is now a parking lot — the store would bring in thousands of dollars in real estate taxes that would benefit the town and school district. He said he expected the project to cost more than $20 million and open by spring 2007.
First, we couldn’t help but chuckle the implication that Wal-Mart’s bland white walls would help beautify the area. Perhaps the box store is more visually pleasing than a parking lot but if a main reason for the project is aesthetics than alternatives such as a high school or park make more sense. Second, the real estate tax argument is typical developer sophistry considering that Wal-Mart will burden tax payers in terms of safety net programs, subsidies, and burdens on police and emergency services.

Birmingham also floats the job rationale – Wal-Mart will purportedly create 500 new jobs – but again the argument is specious. What the developer leaves out is that a super Wal-Mart will put a lot of other jobs at risk, especially at competing small businesses. Spring Valley’s Mayor Darden sums up this counterargument nicely:

"You may gain 500 jobs, but you're going to lose 1,500," said Spring Valley Mayor George Darden, one of the project's most vocal critics.

Darden said the Wal-Mart would put smaller stores out of business along Route 59 and would greatly affect Spring Valley's urban renewal plan, which aims to bring more stores into the county's most populous village.
The developer’s feeble response:

Birmingham said the development company made a living leasing space to business owners who wanted to move in next to stores such as Wal-Mart.

"What Wal-Mart does is, it creates an interest for national retailers to come to this place," he said.
The issue isn’t attracting national retailers; it’s retaining homegrown businesses and recognizing their economic value. As the Alliance’s Richard Lipsky is quoted as saying:

The local businessman has local wholesalers and local accountants and advertises locally," said Lipsky, of New City. "It's a multiplying affect."
And there are already plenty of national retailers within a few mile radius of the proposed supercenter – Target, Home Depot and Staples to name a few. The developer makes it sound like the county is some backwoods hinterland in need of economic invigoration but the opposite is true. In fact, the area is in some ways overdeveloped, creating the traffic problems that will mostly likely be the most contentious issue:

Maryellen Griffin of Suffern said that if the Wal-Mart in Tallman closes, she might shop at the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Harriman because she didn't want to deal with the Route 59 traffic.

Al Meehan said he moved from Yonkers to Spring Valley about four years ago because he couldn't take the growing congestion on Central Park [sic] Avenue.

"But 59 is worse," he said. The increase in traffic a Wal-Mart could bring is among the reasons he doesn't want to see it built.