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2005-12-06
Saranac Lake, NY. Wal-Mart Returns 7 Years After Defeat?

Wal-Mart is so hungry for locations, it's revisiting its old haunts where defeat met them the last time. Wal-Mart unsuccessfully tried to build a store in North Elba and Saranac Lake, New York. The anti-sprawl group, Sound Adirondack Growth Alliance (SAGA) submitted the following update: "Wal-Mart rumors abound once again. This time, it is about the mega-retailer wanting to build a large department store on the properties that make up Tri-Lakes Auto Mall, Carcuzzi Car Care Center, McDonald's and a piece of property owned by the village. While the parties involved remain close-lipped, the Sound Adirondack Growth Alliance (SAGA) is not. We want to make it perfectly clear where we stand on this contentious issue. This is not about Wal-Mart or any other retailer. It is about making sure our community can maintain its small-town character, something that becomes more important every year for tourism-based communities such as ours. It is about making sure any retailer or any commercial development that comes to town is an appropriate size, has an appearance that fits in with the character of our community and addresses costs for the additional infrastructure (water, sewer, highways, SEQR requirements, etc). Although a portion of the proposed site is in an already commercially zoned and developed part of Saranac Lake and would be an appropriate location for a reasonably sized retail business, there are still many issues that need to be addressed. Speculation suggests at least a 100,000-s.f. store, which is the equivalent of two football fields.That doesn't even include the land necessary for the parking lot. In our opinion, that is too large. We believe that the town of North Elba's square-footage cap of 40,000 s.f. for a single store and 68,000 s.f. (about the size of the "Ames Plaza") for a shopping center is more appropriate and something the village should adopt. It certainly seems to have worked well at the Price Chopper shopping center in Lake Placid. In a recent New York Times story about big-box retailers choosing to build smaller stores (40,000 s.f.), it is pointed out that Wal-Mart itself, the mega-giant of all retail stores, is now building smaller stores, known as "Neighborhood Markets." They have found that a significant portion of the population is overwhelmed with the size of their larger stores and supercenters. It turns out the smaller stores work better in the smaller population communities (like Saranac Lake). Any retail store that comes to our community must fit in visually; it is critical that our gateway areas continue to improve. By and large, the village planning code does a very good job in this area, as proven by the new Kinney building and the rebuilt "Ames Plaza." It will be important...and vital...for village officials to stick to the planning code while addressing the issue of appearance. The "Anywhere, USA," corporate, big-box look is not acceptable in this community. Aspects of Saranac Lake's infrastructure may already be at their limit. There may well be an enormous cost to upgrading the village's water and sewer lines to handle a large commercial development. The highway that will serve this development is the busiest highway in the Adirondacks (New York State Department of Transportation statistic) and will, in all probability, require an entire restructuring to address the safety and traffic flow concerns. It is important that the
DEVELOPER absorb these costs and NOT have it be a burden passed on to the taxpayer. There should be no tax incentives offered to any big-box retailer. The New York state, Essex County and Saranac Lake taxpayer is already heavily taxed, and there is no reason that a large, successful, for-profit retailer should receive any tax breaks. Many big box retailers have been known to abandon their large stores when they build an even larger store down the road or in the next town over. Loss of tax revenue and a big, ugly eyesore (remember the abandoned Ames store) are left behind as huge liabilities for a small community. We need to find ways to keep large retailers from leaving the community with an abandoned property and an oversized, vacant building that will have no other use in Saranac Lake. This site adjoins and drains into a large wetland that flows directly into Lake Flower. We live in a region that is especially environmentally sensitive. It goes without saying that environmental issues (too numerous to mention here) will need careful attention. In 1998, when Wal-Mart last explored coming to Saranac Lake, we had three healthy grocery stores and an Ames department store. Since then, the landscape has changed. Although we have gained a fine Sears, a new and larger Kinney, two "dollar stores" and new hardware and auto parts stores, there is certainly a reasonable argument that we need a new grocery store
and a reasonably sized department store. With these needs in mind, SAGA has decided not to oppose any retailer that meets the following criteria: 1) is 40,000 s.f. or less, or a total shopping center of 68,000 s.f. or less 2) Is attractive in appearance and develops the area using state of the art methods to minimize the environmental impact of the new structure(s) and parking lot, including light pollution 3) Is located in a suitable spot 3) Absorbs the additional costs of upgrading all the infrastructure that will be required of a commercial development. SAGA will take whatever legal measures necessary to oppose any retail store that does not meet these criteria. We look forward to working with local government officials in making sure Saranac Lake has "sound growth" and to the day when SAGA will be invited to a ribbon-cutting of a retail store that meets the above criteria."

What you can do: For further information about Saranac Lake, email: markkurtz@adelphia.net










 
 
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