CARS HOMES JOBS

Walmart proposes smaller store in Ballston

Thursday, April 17, 2014
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— Nearly a decade after a proposal for a Walmart Supercenter split the community, there is a new plan to build a scaled-down Walmart in Ballston.

The town on Wednesday received an application from Walmart for construction of a 136,800-square-foot store with a full-service grocery and drive-thru pharmacy on the same site as the earlier proposal.

“Southern Saratoga County is a rapidly growing area. Our new Walmart will offer jobs, tax revenue and new affordable shopping options for customers in the community,” Bill Wertz, a spokesman for the Arkansas-based discount retail giant, said in a press release.

Wertz said the proposal incorporates feedback received on the earlier unsuccessful application. The new store is about 30 percent smaller than a supercenter, and will have access from both Route 50 and Route 67 to smooth traffic flow, he said.

The proposal rejected by the town in 2006 was for a 203,000-square-foot store.

If the store is built, about 300 jobs would be created, the company said, most of them full-time. It would be open around-the-clock.

Through Walmart, the president of the Chamber of Southern Saratoga County issued a statement of support. “This new store promises to be a very positive development for the community of Ballston,” said Pete Bardunias.

In the application, Walmart architects said the proposed store would be smaller than the existing stores in Clifton Park, Glenville and Saratoga Springs. It would not have the auto service shops and garden centers found in those stores, both of which are prohibited at that location by town zoning.

The proposal is for the same property where the supercenter was sought in 2005, about 75 acres on the east side of routes 50 and 67, about a mile south of Ballston Spa.

The proposed store — which would include 50,000 square feet of grocery space, including a deli and bakery — would be in the Rossi Commercial Business Planned Development District, which the Town Board approved in 2011 for a combination of retail stores and office or flexible space. To date, no businesses have located there.

Walmart wants to break ground this fall, and hopes to open the store by late 2015 or the spring of 2016, if it gets all needed approvals.

Developer Frank Rossi of Ballston Spa has met informally recently with town officials to lay out the new plans.

Town Supervisor Patrick Ziegler indicated his general support, saying the project will include new access from Route 67 that should ease traffic congestion at the busy intersection of routes 50 and 67, known as V-Corners.

About $3.5 million in new turn lanes, traffic lights, road infrastructure and water and sewer extensions are being proposed. That work would be completed at the expense of Walmart and Rossi before the store opens, according to the application.

The plans provide for two entrances from Route 50, one just south of the Hess gas station and the other just south of McDonald’s. Dominic Drive, now a stub road off Route 67 south of the Ballston Spa National Bank, would be extended to become an access road.

The project is expected to come before the town Planning Board for initial conceptual review at a meeting on May 1.

Planning Board Chairman Richard Doyle said the meeting will be held in the Town Hall’s large meeting room, but there’s no plan to take public comment that night.

“It’s about the idea. We don’t generally have the engineering to answer people’s questions,” he said.

Doyle noted there’s been a lot of talk among Ballston residents about the need for a grocery store, and the Walmart could meet that need.

“Just listening to the chatter, if it doesn’t go in Ballston it will go in Milton, and as a resident of Ballston, I would rather see it in Ballston,” he said.

The 2005 Walmart proposal emotionally — and roughly evenly — divided the town between those who feared the store’s impact on traffic and on Ballston Spa’s downtown, versus those who foresaw job creation, economic opportunity, and a convenient place to shop. Opponents were outspoken, and Rossi vigorously defended his development rights.

In the end, the Town Board turned down the project in July 2006, citing the proposed Walmart’s size and incompatibility with the town master plan. Rossi took the town to court and lost.

Subsequently, Rossi got Town Board approval for the planned development district, which allows for a total of 269,000 square feet of building space, but no more than 137,000 square feet of it as retail.

Assuming the Walmart proposal stays within those parameters, Rossi will be able to get all the necessary approvals through the town Planning Board, without going back to the Town Board.

Former town supervisor Patti Southworth, a Democrat who was elected in 2007 based in part on a strong anti-Walmart stance, said the proposal sounds like “a reasonable compromise.”

She said she’s still concerned about the low wages and lack of benefits for many Walmart employees, but doesn’t oppose the company locating in town.

“I think [Rossi] tried to market [the site] to others for years and was not successful. At some point, you have to let a property owner make a profit on their property,” said Southworth, who is now running for the state Senate seat held by Hugh Farley.

Walmart also proposed a new supercenter last week in Latham, one that would replace an existing store in the Latham Farms development.

 
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