Saratoga County

Revised Ballston Walmart proposal not drawing as much criticism as earlier plan

Initial reaction to a revised Walmart plan submitted to the town of Ballston has been minor in compa

Initial reaction to a revised Walmart plan submitted to the town of Ballston has been minor in comparison to nearly a decade ago, when plans for a Walmart Supercenter were divisive and generated angry debates.

Some of the people who successfully fought the proposal in 2005-2006 are still opposed to a Walmart, but town officials said they’re not hearing a lot of complaints.

The plans filed with the town last week call for a scaled-down Walmart on the east side of Route 50 about a mile south of Ballston Spa — the same site where local developer Frank Rossi proposed the supercenter before.

For some, it generates the same feelings.

“The arguments against Walmart and big box development haven’t changed,” said Ben Baskin, one of the outspoken critics of the earlier proposal.

“It will hurt local businesses, create terrible traffic problems, depress property values, increase crime, increase public safety and maintenance costs, damage the environment and suck money out of our region,” he said.

This time, instead of a 203,000-square-foot store, the proposal is for a 136,800-square-foot store, about 40 percent of which would be devoted to grocery and food sales.

It is nearly 50,000 square feet larger than would normally be permitted in town, but the plan is in keeping with the terms of a planned development district the Town Board approved for the land in 2011.

The PDD allows up to 137,000 square feet of retail within a larger development. The 75-acre site is now vacant land behind the existing Route 50 commercial strip, which includes gas stations, an Agway store and a McDonald’s.

As long as Walmart’s proposal meets the conditions of the planned development district, it can be approved after only a town Planning Board review. The Planning Board has set an initial meeting on the application for May 1.

Planning Board Chairman Richard Doyle spoke in favor of the plan, saying the town needs to expand its commercial tax base.

Baskin, however, called it a case of money trumping the expressed will of the people, who he said oppose big-box development. “By enabling the zoning for this mega-store, the previous Town Board was entirely negligent, and in opposition to the expressed will of the people,” he said in an email.

Town Supervisor Patrick Ziegler, a Republican who took office in January, said he supports the project as long as any negative impacts can be addressed.

“From everything I can tell, with the additional access roads it will mitigate one of the major issues, which is traffic,” he said Friday.

The Walmart would have two new access points on Route 50, as well as one on Route 67 south of the V-Corners intersection. Walmart and Rossi have promised to do $3.5 million in infrastructure work before the store opens.

“Honestly, there’s been very little reaction so far,” Ziegler said. “We’ve had some people call up to ask whether it was a supercenter, though I thought it was clear in their release that it wasn’t. We’ve had one call opposing it.

“As long as they can address any issues, I think it would be a good thing for town,” he said.

A study the village of Ballston Spa commissioned nine years ago found that the detrimental impact on downtown Ballston Spa from the store proposed at that time would be limited, because most village businesses don’t sell the same kinds of products as Walmart does.

Mayor John P. Romano doesn’t believe the basic dynamic of village business has changed in the intervening years. “We have a lot of specialty shops,” he said.

The study, done by Camoin Associates of Malta, also said that while the Arkansas-based retail giant’s stores have a reputation for undermining nearby downtowns, that reputation was earned in the Midwest and South, not the Northeast.

That same impact hasn’t been seen in the Northeast, according to the study, probably because the Northeast has higher population densities to support stores and downtown businesses.

“Nine years ago, we took a hard look at the impact of a much larger Walmart, and it was quite muted,” Romano said.

He noted, though, that the site is outside the village, and village government has no say over what happens there.

Walmart officials said the store proposal was scaled down 30 percent in reaction to the opposition the plans generated before, and the new store would be smaller than the existing Walmarts in Halfmoon, Glenville and Wilton.

“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,” company spokesman Bill Wertz said in a news release Wednesday.

Walmart would like to begin construction this fall and have the store open late next year.

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