Wal-Mart is dropping plans to build a controversial big-box store in the northern part of Ballston, the company said Wednesday.
The announcement comes 15 months after the town Planning Board approved plans for the 137,000-square-foot store on land off Route 50, despite major public opposition.
Since then, there has been little sign of work at the 75-acre site, as Wal-Mart said it was waiting for landowner Rossi Development of Ballston Spa to start required highway improvements.
“After much deliberation we have decided not to pursue development of a new store in Ballston,” Director of Corporate Communications Phillip Keene said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
There have been published reports that the Arkansas-headquartered international retailing giant is planning to reduce its investment in new stores over the next two years.
“In this case, specifically, it’s been more than three years since we sought the approval,” Keene said. “The conditions for us to move forward have not been completed at this time.”
Frank Rossi Jr., the attorney representing his family’s development company, said he was emailed a letter by Wal-Mart Wednesday afternoon that he said contained erroneous information about the status of development preparation.
He said draft agreements to purchase rights-of-way to widen Route 50 are in place with McDonald’s restaurant and other landowners, and site preparation work will be ready to start April 1.
“We believe the opening date (in 2018) won’t change,” Rossi said.
He plans to respond to Wal-Mart in hope it will change its mind.
The news, however, elated the residents who fought against the project, fearing the impact a giant retailer on its outskirts would have on the village of Ballston Spa, with its traditional downtown and quirky collection of shops.
“That is terrific news,” said Liz Kormos, one of the founders of Smart Growth Ballston. “We’ll have to rally the troops and have a celebration. This is the best Christmas present we could ask for.”
Kormos, who is involved in selling commercial real estate, has been asking for months whether Wal-Mart plans were still going to be pursued.
“I track retail sites, and everything is less stores next year and the year after, and I said the Ballston site was marginal, anyway,” she said.
There also are already three established Wal-Mart stores within 10 to 15 miles of Ballston, in Wilton, Glenville and Amsterdam.
Town Supervisor Tim Szczepaniak still hopes the plan can be saved.
“Right now I’m miffed,” he said Wednesday evening. “A lot of time and effort has been put in by the town Planning Board and by the Town Board. We did due diligence to bring them to the community.”
“Our hope is that the Rossis and Wal-Mart can work it out,” Szczepaniak said. “It would be a major tax source for the town and also create 300 jobs.”
The company’s withdrawal marks a major shift after more than a decade of pursuing a Wal-Mart store at the site, just east of where Routes 50 and 67 meet.
In 2004, the company proposed a 190,000-square-foot SuperCenter that would have required a zoning change, but later withdrew the plan in the face of controversy. The plans deeply divided the community, with residents outspoken on both sides.
In 2011, the Ballston Town Board rezoned the land to allow up to 137,000-square-feet of retail space, but at the time most town officials believed they were approving a project containing multiple stores, not a single large store.
In early 2014, Wal-Mart proposed a store 137,000 square feet in size – smaller than most Wal-Marts – that would have included nearly 50,000 square feet of grocery space.
The plans complied with town zoning and required only town Planning Board approval, but that board spent 16 months reviewing the plans, with people again speaking loudly both for the giant retailer and against it.
Wal-Mart won’t say how much it spent to get the approval, but it was represented by attorneys and architects throughout the process.
The conditions set by the Planning Board included widening Route 50 and installing a new turn lane, in addition to constructing a new traffic light-controlled intersection next to McDonald’s.
Since the September 2015 approval, Rossi has been negotiating with McDonald’s and several other landowners who have highway frontage. Rossi said Wednesday that those agreements are now in place.
He hopes Wal-Mart will reconsider, but acknowledged that if it won’t, the developer will need to find another retail tenant or seek approval for a different use for the land.
Keene said Wal-Mart is always reviewing its plans.
“I think one way to think about it is we assess all our real estate strategy on an annual basis,” he said. “Does this site still align with our priorities?”
USA Today reported in October that Wal-Mart will be reducing its planned number of new store openings in 2017 and 2018, though without citing specific projects that might be affected. The story said Wal-Mart will focus more on developing online sales and overseas markets.
Asked about how the Ballston announcements fits a larger strategy, Keene said: “This is a stand-alone announcement. As a company, we continue to be in growth mode – this year we have already opened dozens of stores, with plans for growth next year as well.”
Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.