Opposition to a proposed Walmart store south of Ballston Spa is becoming more organized as the town takes initial steps in the project’s environmental review.
The Ballston Planning Board on Wednesday voted to seek to lead the review, a first step toward looking at traffic growth and other potential impacts that will take several months. The board’s brief action occurred in front of roughly 80 people, many of them holding up anti-Walmart signs.
“We’re hoping the Planning Board will see how disruptive this will be to the community on every level,” said Ben Baskin, president of a new group, Smart Growth Ballston. “Traffic is at the breaking point now.”
Lawn signs opposing the Walmart plan have been appearing for several weeks, and more recently counter-signs supporting the big-box retailer have also appeared on other lawns, though sometimes side by side with the anti-Walmart signs.
Walmart in April proposed a 137,000-square-foot store including a supermarket off Route 50, on the same site where a much-larger Walmart was proposed in 2005. That earlier application generated community-wide controversy and ultimately was withdrawn.
Walmart officials said the smaller store is a concession to community concerns, and 300 new jobs would be created, in addition to providing the Ballston Spa area with a grocery store. But opponents say that in net, jobs will be lost, because Walmart drives out competition.
Ballston Spa hasn’t had a full-service supermarket in more than a decade, and the Walmart would include 50,000 square feet of supermarket space.
As proposed, the national giant’s plans appear to comply with zoning for the land approved by the Ballston Town Board in 2011. Those regulations allow for 137,000 square feet of retail space within a larger, mixed-use development.
As long as Walmart complies with that approval, the plans will need only site plan review by the town Planning Board, with no further action needed by the Town Board.
“I have confidence that the Planning Board will be able to address any negative impacts,” said town Supervisor Patrick Ziegler, who described himself as “cautiously supportive” of the project.
He said a Walmart would add to the town’s tax base, paying taxes and bringing the town a larger share of Saratoga County sales tax revenue.
Engineers for Walmart earlier this month filed an initial environmental review form, starting the town’s process. Walmart’s traffic engineers, Creighton Manning of Albany, said the traffic generated by the proposed Walmart would be less than what was anticipated when the zoning was changed in 2011. Their study estimates the number of vehicle trips at 370 during the weekday morning peak hour, 784 trips on weeknight peak hours and 810 trips at Saturday peak hours.
Looking at 24 hours — since the store will be open around-the-clock — opponents say the project will generate 7,000 trips per day on already-busy Route 50 and diminish Ballston's small-town feel.
“We are zoned residential, that’s what they’ve forgotten,” said Lisa Speidel, who lives on Martin Avenue, across Route 50 from the site.
Traffic improvements proposed by Walmart include widening Route 50 between McDonalds and the V-Corners intersection, an entrance with a traffic light just south of McDonalds, a second Route 50 entrance between a Hess station and Trustco bank and a new loop road from Dominic Drive on Route 67. In Ballston Spa, West High Street would be re-striped at Route 50 to create a new right-turn lane.
Town Building Inspector Tom Johnson said he anticipates a new traffic study will be requested. Traffic information Walmart submits will be reviewed by BFJ Planning, a New York City traffic engineering firm retained by the town, he said.
A review by the Saratoga County Planning Department also will be needed, he noted.
Baskin said Smart Growth Ballston is looking at whether there are grounds to challenge the 2011 zoning approval, which was portrayed at the time as a 90,000-square-foot anchor store with 47,000 square feet of smaller retail; the final law, however, doesn’t prohibit it being all in one building.
“It’s not the same proposal,” Baskin said. “If the Planning Board takes a good hard look at this, it’s a loss at every level.”
In addition to traffic, there are concerns about increased crime and recreational vehicles parking overnight at the store, he said.