About 60 people turned out Thursday to oppose a proposed Walmart store in Ballston, holding up anti-Walmart signs while representatives of the giant retail chain made a presentation to the town Planning Board.
The opponents weren’t allowed to speak during the meeting, as Planning Board members were hearing details of the proposed project just south of Ballston Spa and asking their own questions about it for the first time.
“We knew we wouldn’t be able to say anything, but we wanted them to feel our presence, which they did,” said Ben Baskin, one of the people organizing opposition to the store.
“We understand the signs. We’ve read them all,” said Planning Board Chairman Richard Doyle at the beginning of the meeting.
Public comment will be taken at a future date, after a public hearing is scheduled, Doyle said.
The formation of an organized opposition echoes what happened a decade ago, when a proposal for a 192,000-square-foot Walmart Supercenter at the same site generated community-wide controversy, with emotional arguments and divided community feelings in both Ballston and Ballston Spa.
The new proposal submitted to town officials last month calls for a scaled-down 136,800-square-foot store, which would carry a full line of groceries. Walmart said the smaller story was an attempt to address community concerns.
The proposal appears to conform with the rules of a planned development district for the site approved by the Town Board in 2011. The PDD allows up to 137,000-square-feet of retail space on the site.
Assuming the plan complies with the PDD’s rules, the Walmart can be approved after only a Planning Board review, though that will take several months.
The Walmart would have no garden center or auto service shop, in keeping with rules set in the PDD legislation to protect nearby businesses from corporate competition.
The proposed site is on the east side of Route 50, behind a McDonald’s and a service station.
Project representatives said that increased traffic at the busy Route 50-Route 67 intersection can be addressed by construction of a new access road from Route 67. The developer is also proposing two entrances to the store from Route 50, one near McDonald’s and one near a Hess gasoline station.
Since the earlier Walmart plan was withdrawn in 2006, real estate broker Tom Savino said the landowners, the Rossi family, tried to market the land to several supermarket chains, but without success.
Ballston Spa hasn’t had a supermarket in more than a decade, and many people want to see one.
“The site was turned down by every grocery store chain except Walmart,” Savino said.
Walmart officials said the store would mean 300 new jobs, more than half of them full-time.
The Planning Board asked Walmart representatives for a new environmental assessment form as a first step in the project’s environmental review. Board attorney Peter Reilly said it won’t be able to formally accept that form and start the environmental review until its May 28 meeting.
“It appears that the board is in agreement that we continue the process and see how it works out,” Doyle said after the presentation.
Also after the presentation, Baskin said project opponents have only just started to get organized, and plan to stay involved.
“People like the small-town rural character of the community and want to keep it,” he said. “We are very pleased with the turnout.”