by Denise Civiletti
Walmart can build the new, bigger store it plans for Route 58 next to Applebee's now that an appeals court tossed a lower court ruling that had blocked the project.
The retail giant's site plan was approved by the Riverhead Town Board on June 5, 2007. But the owner of the shopping plaza where the existing Walmart is currently a tenant, along with United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1500, and six individual union members who live in Riverhead Town, brought a lawsuit seeking to void the approval. They won in the trial court, where Justice Thomas Whelan on Oct. 6, 2008, in a 10,000-word opinion, voided two sections of the town zoning code and set aside the site plan approval.
But an Appellate Division panel on May 11 overturned the lower court decision and ruled that Walmart's current landlord, the union and the individual residents lacked standing to challenge the town's approval, because they could not demonstrate actual, direct injury from the project.
"To establish standing, the petitioner must show that it would suffer direct injury different from that suffered by the public at large, and that the injury asserted falls within the zone of interests or concerns sought to be promoted or protected by the statutory provision under which the agency has acted," the court stated in its ruling. Any economic injury to the owner of the shopping center where Walmart is currently a tenant, caused by Walmart moving to a new location, is not to be taken into account. "Economic harm caused by business competition is not an interest protected by the zoning laws," the court said.
The approved site plan grants permission to construct a Wal-Mart Supercenter store of 169,547 square feet (including a building of 146,018 square feet, an outdoor vestibule of 2,238 square feet, a covered garden center of 9,091 square feet, an uncovered garden center of 8,025 square feet to the east of the building and a 4,175 square foot uncovered garden center to the south of the building), according to court documents. Approval was also granted for a separate 27,000 square foot retail building, a motor vehicle repair center, and a 54-seat food center.
The site is located on the north side of Route 58 at Kroemer Avenue, just west of Applebee's restaurant.