Walmart will proceed with Supercenter plans for Riverhead

The existing Walmart on Route 58 in Riverhead will likely be replaced by a 170,000-square-foot Walmart Supercenter across from Kroemer Avenue, also on Route 58. The developer behind the proposed store is moving ahead after a favorable court decision.

The developers behind a proposal to bring a super Walmart to Riverhead are moving full speed ahead with their plans, the News-Review has learned. That news came after an appeals court last week reversed prior court decisions that were blocking the massive store from coming to Route 58.

“Walmart does intend to move forward with the new site and had even filed for building permits before the prior court decision overturning their approvals,” said Linda Margolin, an attorney for Headriver LLC., the New Jersey-based developer set to build the new Walmart.

The recent ruling allows for the national giant to open a 170,000-square-foot Supercenter on 21 acres across from Kroemer Avenue next to the Applebee’s restaurant on the thoroughfare.

The new store would replace the existing Walmart farther east on Route 58. That store measures about 113,000 square feet.

Riverhead Town had approved initial building plans in 2007. But that approval was challenged in court in two separate lawsuits, one by the United Food and Commercial Workers, including six union members who are Riverhead residents, and the other by Riverhead PGC, the company that owns the shopping center that houses the current Walmart.

The union has launched a nationwide campaign against Walmart over low salaries and the company’s refusal to allow them to unionize.

State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Whelan in October 2008 supported the arguments made in those lawsuits, that the town illegally granted zoning variances and did not follow the requirements of the town’s zoning in that area.

Both the town and Headriver LLC appealed that decision, and a four-member state appellate division, in a ruling made May 11, overruled Judge Whelan and dismissed both lawsuits on the grounds that neither the food workers unions nor the owners of the Riverhead Plaza had legal standing to file a lawsuit.

The appellate judges said the union members didn’t live close enough to the proposed Walmart to claim they would be harmed by additional traffic it might cause.

The appellate judges also didn’t buy Riverhead Plaza’s argument that increased traffic caused by the new Walmart would make it difficult for them to find a new tenant at their site.

“Economic harm caused by business competition is not an interest protected by the zoning laws,” the ruling states.

The ruling also validated the section of the town code that allows developers to fund open space efforts in other parts of town in order to build bigger than zoning allows, a system called the transfer of development rights.

Supervisor Sean Walter said he had assumed Headriver would move forward with its plans given the court ruling.

Mr. Walter noted also his proposed changes to the town’s transfer of development rights program. His plan would call for the creation of a so-called land bank from which developers could buy open space and farmland preservation rights. The current system forces a developer to reach a contract with an individual landowner in order to expand a commercial project.

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