Planning Board to weigh Wal-Mart expansion April 8

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RIO GRANDE – A proposed expansion to Wal-Mart in Rio Grande has drawn fire at recent Middle Township Planning Board meetings, and next week, the board will once again consider the store's request to add about 40,000 square feet to Wal-Mart's footprint in the township.

If plans are approved by the board, the Middle Township store could be a “Supercenter” by the end of the year. According to the engineering report, a portion of the expansion would be within retail stores north of the existing Wal-Mart building. The remainder would be new construction.

The regular meeting of the Planning Board is April 8 at 7:30 p.m. at Township Hall, 33 Mechanic St.

Some opponents of the expansion plan to speak at the meeting.

Several variances must be approved by the board before the project can proceed. According to the engineering report, Wal-Mart is seeking variances for size, type and number of store signs and the size of its front-yard setback.

The biggest sticking point at previous board meetings has been the number of parking spaces the store would provide. Given the proposed size of the expanded store, zoning laws would require 1,004 spaces. Wal-Mart currently has 836 parking spaces and has proposed adding 28 to accommodate the expansion.

“Wal-Mart is asking for an additional 40,000 square feet in the expansion,” said Bill Wertz said, a Wal-Mart spokesman. “Our current store is almost 140,000 square feet,” he said.

According to the report, the expanded Wal-Mart will cover about 20 acres, and that the expansion will add a grocery section to the store.

Wertz said that a parking study commissioned by Wal-Mart found that even during a recent busy Labor Day weekend, customers occupied fewer than half of the available spaces.

Wertz said that Wal-Mart has been expanding stores around the country to include groceries. Wertz said the Rio Grande store would remain open during the expansion, and that he hopes that the work would be completed by the end of the year.

“Our customers are very interested in greater convenience and savings,” Wertz said. “We are going to provide both.”

Wertz estimated that the expansion would add about 90 jobs to the area.

“Most of the positions will be full time,” he said.

Gerald Chudoff, a member of United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 152, opposes the Wal-Mart expansion.

Chudoff said that Wal-Mart’s traffic study for the parking lot is flawed.

“They did the study based on Labor Day 2011,” Chudoff said, “right after Hurricane Irene.”

About a week earlier, the storm swept through southern New Jersey. Chudoff maintains that many of the tourists that evacuated ahead of the hurricane didn't come back for the season.

“What they presented to the board with their traffic study were not good numbers,” Chudoff said.

Chudoff, a Burlington County resident who said he attends the board meetings as a private citizen, not as a union representative, also challenges Wal-Mart’s employment record.

“My personal stance is that Wal-Mart doesn't create a positive job growth,” Chudoff said. “It creates low paying jobs.”

Chudoff said that Wal-Mart is a threat to local businesses. “Primarily, a Wal-Mart sucks the life out of the community,” he said. “It puts the mom and pop stores out of business.”

Middle Township has several other grocery stores, including two Acmes and a Save-A-Lot in Rio Grande.

Wal-Mart opened at the site in 2007.


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