Town Leaders Say Walmart Project Now Between Attorneys

BALLSTON SPA – The tension was high at Tuesday night’s Ballston Town Board meeting with dozens of community members in attendance, along with representatives from the Rossi family, Walmart and Smart Growth Ballston.

More than 20 Ballston area residents voiced their concerns over Walmart’s proposal to set up a 24-hour store at the intersection of Routes 50 and 67; primarily citing worries over traffic, quality of life, and competition with local businesses.

“It’s possible to have businesses and homes — it’s not possible to have a big box retailer,” said resident Renee J. Cook. “Whether it’s Walmart, Target, Lowe’s, Home Depot, I don’t care. They’re all the same. They’re noisy and they’re going to diminish the value of my family’s home and my home.”

Smart Growth Ballston presented the Town Board with a petition that garnered around 950 signatures from community members against the proposed Walmart store.

Attorney Jeffrey Baker of Young, Sommer, LLC, an Albany-based law firm working with Smart Growth Ballston to cease continuation of the Walmart project, said the Town Board should amend the existing Planned Unit Development District (PUDD) to make it consistent with the vision of the town.

“They [Rossi family] sat on their rights, the zoning expired, it’s as simple as that,” said Baker.

Frank Rossi Jr., representative and legal counsel of developer Frank Rossi, said everything done in regards to the Walmart project has been in compliance with local law.

“To say simply the expiration has occurred, ignores the rest of section 7 of the PUDD,” said Rossi Jr. “When wetland mitigation takes precedence in any road building that has to occur and sewer and water installation needs to occur as well, and that happens between June 2011 and September 2012, that is substantial progress; and to say otherwise, is completely unsupportable.”

Legal counsel for Walmart, Leslie Morrow, agreed with Rossi that the U.S. retail giant has acted in compliance with the PUDD created in May 2011.

“On behalf of Walmart, I would put forth that we have been and are in compliance with the PUDD,” said Morrow. “We have been conducting site due diligence since 2011, we have been in negotiations with the Rossi family during that time and subsequent thereto.”

Town Supervisor, Patrick Ziegler, said the Walmart issue is one that the current Town Board inherited and will have to work through. For now, Ziegler said the board will rely on legal counsel and will not be making any decisions in regard to the project.

“The challenge before the Town Board, as you’ve already heard tonight, is the fact that there are so many attorneys that have different opinions on what we are able to do, what we can do, what the law actually states, and what the PUDD allows,” said Ziegler. “We won’t be making any public statements or taking any official position. You would like to think that when people are on your side it’s that simple, you can just make a decision, but we also do have some invested parties that have put hundreds of thousands of dollars into this process and we need to make absolutely certain, as was not always the case in the recent past, we hope to avoid legal action on one side or the other.”

Story corrections, 6/25/14, 4:00 p.m.–The correct spelling of legal counsel for Walmart is Leslie Mauro, not Morrow as published.  Additionally, the story reports “conducting site due diligence since 2011…”. The accurate and correct date is 2012 for due diligence. The Rossi’s awaited progress on wetland mitigation before heavily marketing the site which took them into 2012 with Walmart and other markets that expressed interest in the property. We regret the error.

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