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2006-06-07
Saranac Lake, NY Wal-Mart Loses Again

Chalk up another victory for citizens. After two defeats, will Wal-Mart ever come back to Saranac Lake, New York? The village Board voted June 5th not to rezone land known as the "sand pit." That puts an abrupt halt to Wal-Mart's plans for a 121,000 s.f. superstore. The retailer issued a statement to the media admitting the decision "prohibits Wal-Mart from locating in Saranac Lake." "We are disappointed that the village board and Mayor (Tom) Michael have decided not to proceed with re-zoning the Saranac Lake village-owned sand pit. The sand pit is a vital piece of the property needed to build a Supercenter in Saranac Lake. At this time, there are no other viable sites available." The Mayor cast the deciding vote in the 3-2 decision to leave the property zoned residential. Wal-Mart needed the roughly 11 acres sand pit, to tie together with two other parcels it already controls on Lake Flower Avenue. "Over the past few months, many residents have expressed their support for a Supercenter and the savings that it can bring to the area," Wal-Mart bemoaned. "Thousands of signatures were submitted supporting retail development in Saranac Lake, and we have recently received hundreds of cards in support of our project. Unfortunately, the Board's decision has effectively prohibited Wal-Mart from locating in Saranac Lake." This release, according to the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, was issued by a Boston consultant hired by the company to do public relations for the retailer. Citizens, on the other hand, we delighted with the Mayor and Board. Here are excerpts from the email put out by the citizen's group SAGA the morning after the vote: "Ok, here it is, the news you've all been waiting to hear: Godzilla takes a hard blow to it's smiley face and hits the canvas. Is it a knockout? Will Godzilla get back up and fight again? Stay tuned to find out. The village board, with a 3-2 vote at last night's village board meeting, chose to stop the process of rezoning the village sand lot. This takes the wind out of Wal-Mart's sails for their 121,000 sq ft super-center proposal. They needed that property to build their proposed super-center and they needed it zoned commercial. However, it does not mean that that piece of property may not ultimately be zoned commercial, but it will have to go through an extensive process and that will probably happen in the comprehensive planning and zoning updates that are expected to take place in the near future. It allows for any zoning changes to be considered within the context of the community as a whole, which has been SAGA's position all along. We applaud the village board for making the decision to do the extensive research necessary to determine what the best use of that property will be... Mayor Tom Michael's vote was the last one and it broke the tie. His explanation as to why he opposed the motion brought to the board by Trustee John McEneany which was to go ahead with the process of rezoning (it was not a motion to rezone, only to continue the process) preceded his vote, which had everyone sitting on the edge of their chair listening in total silence (you coulda heard a pin drop)... The 121,000 sq ft Godzilla has been stopped... for now. They will be back - they always come back. I did take the opportunity to speak with Peter Giovenco the representative of Bergmann Associates, which is for all practicality, Wal-Mart. I told him that he must face a reality in that a large percentage of this community does not want a 121,000 sq ft super-center and if they (Wal-Mart) want to be in Saranac Lake it will be only if they scale their store down to a size appropriate for this community. He didn't seem too receptive to building something smaller, gave me some PR about how a small store "wears out too quickly" or something like that - it didn't make much sense to me. I did tell him that Wal-Mart needs community support to build in Saranac Lake and, with the exception of a small but vocal minority, they don't have it now... All your efforts have shown the impact an involved citizenry can have on it's community. Congratulations to all of you!!"

What you can do: Several days ago Sprawl-Busters reported that the Village Board was not pleased with Wal-Mart's effort to lobby citizens to produce the "hundreds of cards" supporting the project, mentioned in the company's canned statement. That effort may have adversely affected this vote. Remember that in the Saranac Lake case, Wal-Mart did not select land that was properly zoned. Anytime a developer chooses residential land, they are opening themselves up to a straight-forward defeat like this one, because local officials are not required to rezone land for anyone. There is no "as of right" use of land that has to be rezoned. In this case, Wal-Mart Realty took a gamble, and lost. For earlier stories, search Newsflash by "Saranac Lake."










 
 
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