WAWARSING – Litigation involving the possible development of a Walmart franchise in the hamlet of Napanoch will continue, apparently. Wakefern Corporation, the parent company of the Ellenville ShopRite, along with Wawarsing-Ellenville for Responsible Development (WERD) have filed an eleventh-hour appeal of a previous ruling that, in effect, would have allowed the project to go forward.
Karen Meleta, a spokesperson for Wakefern, said that the company feels that the lower court's ruling was too hasty.
"We've filed the appeal," Meleta said. "It stems from our belief that the court failed to consider all the facts."
Key to the appeal, according to Meleta, is that there has yet to be performed a comprehensive study relating to the environmental and economic impact the store would cause. Meleta said that the Town of Wawarsing Planning Board should have required such a study before signing off on any development plans. She cited the fact that the Ulster County Planning Board had recommended a study be conducted under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), and that the town planning board should have followed the county's lead. Some have argued, in fact, that the lack of due diligence by the town planning board has left the matter open to litigation.
"A comprehensives study has not been done; it's as simple as that," Meleta said.
Steven Krulick, one of the principles behind WERD, said that the lack of transparency during this process has put at loggerheads people from both sides of the issue, when a more open process would have gone a long way toward alleviating that potentiality.
"When you feel justice hasn't been properly applied, if you don't jump on the case this time and you allow the thing to stand, well, the next time something happens, they'll just pull that precedent out," Krulick said.
Krulick went on to say that the lower court's decision, that those with legal standing in the case should be limited to individuals and businesses within approximately 500 feet from the proposed store, was flawed.
"The court said that you cannot be effected by something more than 500 feet away from you," Krulick said. "That's clearly absurd."
Meleta said that Wakefern believes Walmart would apply significant downward pressure on local wages, something that would hurt businesses throughout the region. She pointed out that, while ShopRite cannot be classified as a mom-and pop operation, they are an important regional company that employs approximately 180 people at its Ellenville store, the vast majority of which earn union wages with good benefits. The loss of even a handful of these higher-wage jobs would ripple through the community.
She also said that having such retailers in a small community like Ellenville can change the entire complexion of the area, and that having a big-box store could undermine Ellenville-Wawarsing's "small-town feel."
"It can really change the whole character of the community," Meleta said.
Mr. Krulick said that he feels pretty much the same way when it comes to this kind of store potentially undermining the character of the area. Even so, none of this would have been an issue if the town planning board had simply followed the county's recommendation. Krulick also said that he feels the lower court judge simply accepted Walmart's — and, by extension, the town's — arguments, verbatim, without giving any consideration to the voluminous documentary evidence relating to Walmart's impact upon communities that WERD had provided in the case.
Wawarsing Town Supervisor Leonard Distel said that he was still in the process of getting himself up to speed on the latest developments in the case, but that he did have several areas of concern regarding the project.
"A significant majority of the people living in the Town of Wawarsing would like to see Walmart," Distel said. "We have a 10-percent unemployment rate in our area, and the economy needs jobs."
Distel said that he feels Walmart's presence is a way to lower unemployment in the area and put people back to work. He went on to say that there are a number of other communities in the area that seem to be able to support both a ShopRite and a Walmart, so he doesn't see why the same thing can't happen in Wawarsing.
'Competition is good for our economy," Distel said. "Another paycheck means another cup of coffee bought, a newspaper purchased, a breakfast at a local diner, a shirt cleaned, and a lot less spent on public assistance."