There was not a lot of inter-municipal diplomacy this week in the two small communities of Gloversville and Johnstown, New York. The city of Gloversville has a population of just over 15,000 — less than it had twenty years ago. Johnstown has only half the population of Gloversville. The two communities together don’t have enough population to support one Wal-Mart supercenter. But Wal-Mart’s proposal has got local officials at each other’s throats. According to the Schenectady Daily Gazette, Johnstown officials are not happy with the planned roadway presented by Wal-Mart this week at the Gloversville Planning Board work session. A whole contingent of Johnstown officials came to the Gloversville meeting to side-swipe Wal-Mart’s road plan. Gloversville Mayor Tim Hughes invited his colleagues from Johnstown to drop by the Gloversville Planning Board meeting, reportedly to try to fast-track review of the Wal-Mart environmental impact statement. The Gloversville Planning Board is the lead agency for the EIS. This environmental report is required under the New York State the Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) Act. The Planning Board has to weigh the environmental impacts of this project with other social and economic factors. Wal-Mart has proposed the construction of a 186,979 s.f. Wal-Mart Supercenter, which requires the relocation of Hales Mills Road. The project also involves site modifications to the Fulton County Federal Credit Union, and the creation of two Outparcels that will be owned and developed by the Credit Union just north of the project in the Town of Johnstown. The overall project area is approximately 40.17 acres. The Fulton County Department of Transportation has jurisdiction over the Hales Mills Road and must review and approve of any roadway improvement plans. The Planning Board has identified several potential significant environmental impacts from this project, including the introduction of additional traffic
volumes to the local roadway network, impacts to the down stream sewer system,
impacts to the site drainage and down stream waters, the impacts to wetland areas on the site, a change in the visual appearance of the site, the generation of additional noise on
the project site primarily from traffic access, and positive fiscal impacts to local government units. The project involves rezoning, subdivision, and site plan approval from the City of Gloversville and the Town of Johnstown Planning Board, and permits for roadway/highway improvements approval from Fulton County and NY Department of Transportation. Wal-Mart already has a discount store on the 5th Avenue Extension in Johnstown, one mile away from the Gloversville site. Prior to choosing the current site, Wal-Mart says it explored the option of expanding its existing store. “While physically feasible,” the EIS says, “such a layout is not desirable for the following reasons: The resulting building expansion, site improvements and grading would result in approximately 3.5 acres of State regulated wetlands. Therefore disturbing substantially more regulated wetlands than the ?? 1.15 acres proposed to be disturbed at the current site. For the above reasons, utilizing the existing Wal-Mart location in the Town of Johnstown was rejected as a desirable alternative. The current proposed site layout best meets the goals and objectives of the project sponsor while being sensitive to the existing environmental conditions and constraints presented by the Site, its location and its existing features.” But the town of Johnstown winds up on the losing end of this deal. Two Town Board members told the Gloversville Planning Board that they were opposed to the road reconfiguration plan, which would channel all traffic leaving Route 30A into a roundabout at the head of the store parking lot. Wal-Mart’s plan cuts off direct access to Hales Mills Road and blocks access to businesses on nearby Van Road, including a convenience store and the UPS terminal. Town Board members told Gloversville the issue for them was not Wal-Mart applying economic pressure to close nearby businesses, but rather “we don’t want to put them out of business with the construction of the highways.” The Planning Board attempted to defend their work on the impact statement review, which started last spring. Wal-Mart says it wants to thorough review to protect the company from costly litigation. Town officials wondered out loud what will happen to Wal-Mart’s existing discount store in Johnstown. One town official stated that it is common practice for Wal-Mart to leave abandoned properties vacant. It’s easy to see that Johnstown gets little out of this land deal besides a big, empty store.
Gloversville likes to describe itself as “a fantastic place to set up business.” Unfortunately in this case, Wal-Mart has already set up business the next town over, and is now playing leapfrog by closing down its existing store, just to build a bigger one a mile away. Readers are urged to call Mayor Tim Hughes at the city clerk’s number, (518) 773-4542, and leave this message: “I’m calling to urge the Mayor to support the ‘No Action’ alternative for the proposed Wal-Mart in Gloversville. Wal-Mart has said it wants to build smaller superstores, so the Mayor should ask them to give consideration to simply reformatting its existing store into a supercenter. No wetlands would be destroyed, no empty buildings would be left behind, and no roads would have to be shut down. As it stands now, Gloversville’s gain is Johnstown’s loss. The ‘No Action alternative means denial of the application and no redevelopment of the project site at this time. As the environmental impact report admits: ‘The no-action alternative will avoid all potential environmental impacts identified as resulting from the project.’ This project will not expand local retail competition, or increase tax revenues to the City, County or School District. The preferred alternative is for Wal-Mart to upgrade its existing store into a supercenter, and stay right where it is.”