A loud chorus of Farmingdale supporters in favor of the expansion of the Walmart store along Route 110 continues to grow while the Town of Babylon stresses the complexity of the site and is giving the application a thorough review.
The store filed an application in Feb. 2009 with the Town of Babylon Planning & Development to expand its existing store by 60,000 square feet, only to find nearly two years later that its pending application is still being reviewed. In the meantime, more than 2,000 local supporters have formed a “Farmingdale for Walmart” group in support of the expansion and have presented a petition with their signatures to the TOB.
The store expansion, said Philip Serghini, a spokesperson for Walmart, would make the Farmingdale operation the first Super Walmart on Long Island providing a full line of grocery choices, including fresh produce, meat, and deli items. It would also add approximately 85 additional jobs with benefits, he said, as well as an estimated 100 to 125 construction jobs and tens of thousands of dollars in local property taxes annually to help pay for community services like police and fire departments and schools.
“Since the 142,647 sq ft store was opened in 2007, it has been very popular and surrounded by a very supportive community,” said Serghini. “We have not heard much from the TOB except that the application is under consideration and they have moved only to request draft proposals on a traffic study. To have an application sitting for two years is a ‘red flag’ and we believe that it might point to lobbying and delays from the grocery union.”
Not so, says Tim Ruggeri, director of communications for the Town of Babylon.
“Route 110 is a major north-south corridor,” he explained. “The expansion application involves complex issues of traffic and garbage removal. We understand that they want to add more groceries to the store, which would cause more perishable goods to go to waste. We are looking at additional deliveries and changes to the immediate area. Our traffic engineer has some concerns. Of course, Supervisor Steve Bellone takes into consideration the calls from the store supporters but this is nothing more than a standard site review with very complex issues.”
Suffolk County Legislator DuWayne Gregory, whose district includes the Farmingdale Walmart area, said that his phones have been quiet concerning the Walmart expansion. Gregory has not seen the expansion plans but worries that additional customers will bring more traffic to the area.
“My concern is the traffic impact and suffering of local businesses,” he said. “Walmart has a reputation of slowly expanding in an area and driving out local business. Instead of residents going to their local grocery stores, they will do all of their shopping at Walmart.”
But the “Farmingdale for Walmart” group sees otherwise. “I think it’s long overdue that the town should be acting on this. The savings, convenience, new jobs and additional tax dollars that this store is expected to bring are all welcome additions to our town, especially in these tough economic times,” said Brian Watts, one of the group’s leaders.
A recent poll released in conjunction with Walmart Stores, Inc. showed that 79 percent of Farmingdale-area residents support the expansion of the Walmart store. Sheila Borgese, speaking on behalf of local consumers, said she is not surprised.
"Walmart has been a good neighbor in the Farmingdale community," she said. "Neighbors I talk to are excited to have an expanded selection of grocery and other goods at low prices. How could you not want that these days? This will be a big help to local families and senior citizens, and Walmart’s expansion would bring tax relief to a highly taxed area." The poll also found that 64 percent of respondents felt that grocery prices in the area are too high.
“We have no idea why the TOB Building Department and Planning Commissioner are taking so long to approve this proposal,” Watts said. “It is on vacant, adjacent land. It will expand our commercial tax base and provide much needed local jobs, savings and shopping choices to local residents. The Town needs to do its job and approve the expansion now."
The survey found that 85 percent of area residents felt that the Town has had enough time to make a decision.