Walmart East Patchogue plan draws debate

Residents show their support or non support for

Residents show their support or non support for a proposed Walmart plan in East Patchogue, during a hearing at Brookhaven Town Hall in Farmingville. (Jan. 9, 2012) (Credit: Newsday/Jessica Rotkiewicz)

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A planned 98,000-square-foot East Patchogue Walmart has divided residents who believe the big box store would bring jobs and commerce from those who fear it would cripple traffic and the local economy.

That was the message about 350 people sent Brookhaven's planning board Monday during an emotional public hearing about the proposed store.

A vote on the proposal will not happen until Jan. 23 at the earliest, but Medford resident Don Seubert said the town should scrap the Walmart -- pitched for Sunrise Highway and Hospital Road -- as soon as possible.

"Where is the assessment of how nice your property is going to sell next to a Walmart?" he said.

But Sylvia Harris of East Patchogue said the store would give senior citizens the ability to shop locally. "We need it, and if I had money I would build it myself," she said.

Both sentiments were repeated many times during the hearing, which attracted Walmart backers with blue signs and opponents with yellow signs.

Opponents seemed to slightly outnumber supporters.

Other opponents said the Walmart's traffic would impede ambulances from getting to nearby Brookhaven Memorial Hospital. Supporters touted Wal-Mart's claim that the store will bring 100 construction jobs and 200 to 250 store jobs.

The planning board will accept written comments until Jan. 19, said chairman Vincent Pascale, who acknowledged the tension that marked the hearing.

"There are a lot of emotions in the room this afternoon," Pascale said.

David Sloane, an attorney representing Wal-Mart, said the chain would fund improvements to nearby roads to ease traffic. He added that the site has been zoned for a large commercial use for nearly 40 years.

The Walmart store would sit on 16.64 acres. Arnold Wolowitz, who owns the property and a nearby apartment complex called La Bonne Vie, did not return calls seeking comment. Representatives for La Bonne Vie have said senior residents want the Walmart because it would give them a shopping option within walking distance.

Wal-Mart officials did not return a call seeking comment.

Members of IBEW Local 25 of Hauppauge spoke in favor of the development. Electrician John Slatton of Lake Ronkonkoma said trades workers need the jobs at a time when building is slow.

"We're looking for good work. We're all suffering as well as everybody else," he said.

But Paul Pontieri, mayor of the adjacent village of Patchogue, sent a letter to Brookhaven opposing the Walmart. The letter, which Pascale read into the record, said the store would "create a severe decline in local business."

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