Court ruling paves way for super WalMart in Riverhead

An appeals court has reversed prior court decisions that were blocking a super WalMart from coming to Riverhead.
The ruling would allow the national giant to open a 170,000-square foot Supercenter on 21 acres across from Kroemer Avenue on Route 58.
The new store would replace the existing Wal-Mart 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, the New Jersey developer set to build the new WalMart, 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 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.
Town officials could not be reached for comment, but Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said in a radio interview last month that he believed the current Town Board was in favor of the WalMart application.
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