WAL-MART MANIA

Haverstraw Residents and officials express concern over proposed Walmart’s impact

Wal-Mart in Suffern (photo from waymarking.com)

POMONA– The final stages of the Haverstraw Zoning Board’s approval process for a proposed Walmart site on Route 202 met with criticism from local residents last week. Residents gathered at the zoning board meeting last Wednesday and urged the board to further review the project’s economic and environmental impact on the area.

The proposal by developers with Mt. Ivy Partners LLC includes the development of a “big box” store, which is widely expected to be a Walmart. In addition, the development will likely include restaurants, an upscale housing community, gas stations, and smaller stores.

Haverstraw residents, environmental activists, business owners, and local officials objected to the project for a variety of reasons. Most concerns involved the closeness of the project to Minisceongo Creek and the nearby wetland habitats.

Environmental educator and permaculture designer Jonathan Ramirez stated that the mapping of the area in the project’s environmental impact statement was incorrect. The mapping ignored the presence of signature marshland wildlife such as cattails and misclassified the level of re-wilding the area had gone through since the end of its use as a gravel pit in the 1950s.

“Inaccuracies in the environmental impact statement include an incomplete plant list specifically excluding sensitive wetland plants, incomplete mammal lists, and incorrect evaluation of the ecological niche and ecological succession,” said Ramirez.

Ramirez added that when such wetlands are affected, there is a possibility of flooding, because the plant species of the area serve as natural absorbers of runoff during high rainfall.

In response to these concerns, attorney and counsel for the developers Ivor Emanuel said that the relevant authorities reviewed the environmental impact statement and concluded that the project fits well in the buffer zone between the development and the wetlands.

“Neither the wetlands nor the hundred foot buffer around the wetlands are being touched,” said Emanuel. “The development is confined to the upland portion. It is being done in accordance with all the applicable rules and regulations and we believe that it is appropriately protective of the environment.”

Financial impact was also a matter of concern. Pomona Mayor Brett Yagel voiced his opposition to the current zoning proposal. He argued that it would alter the financial character of Haverstraw and Ramapo by impacting small mom-and-pop businesses.

“It’s just not the right proposed development of the area,” said Yagel. “If you take a look at what’s happening and what’s currently in Pomona, something like this will drastically change the area.”

Yagel also raised concerns about the zoning of the parking lot and traffic. According to him, illegal zoning variances were granted to expand the parking lot, but the environmental impact study was not changed to reflect that.

“The time frames in which they specified do not encompass, for example, rush hour time frames,” Yagel stated. “They are a subset of the full time frames.”

However, engineer and traffic consultant to the developers, Phillip Greeley, argued that as of August 24, all traffic studies, including ones addressing traffic volume, were up to date. Greeley said the studies addressed both transportation and environmental concerns related to supermarkets such as the Walmart shopping center.

The public hearing was the latest and will likely be the last of many for the zoning and planning boards. A planning board meeting to vote on the plans is scheduled for November 28, and local business owner Jeff Prupis believes that the plans will likely be approved.

“The developers seem to be trying to do as much as they can get away with,” said Prupis.

However, Prupis also said that legal challenges are already mounting to halt the project. One is an Article 48 lawsuit proceeding from Pomona. Another is an Article 78 suit filed by Prupis and other small business owners who feel they might be impacted by the project.