It’s called heading them off at the pass. There is no pass in Ballston, but town officials recognize they have been slow to react to the threat of giant superstore construction in their small town. The Town Board voted yesterday to consider putting in place a building moratorium that would prevent any large scale retail development from advancing, until the town has had a year to reconstruct its zoning code first. Moratoriums are commonly accepted protocol for a community that needs to step back from the table before being swallowed up by developers. It will take two more weeks to formally adopt the moratorium, which was proposed as a 12 month period at this week’s meeting. The pause would affect commercial development, planned unit development, and large subdivisions. Town Supervisor Raymond Callanan was quoted in the Albany Times-Union as noting that a public hearing must be held before any new law is passed, so the Town Board would have to reschedule the actual moratorium vote in two weeks. Residents in Ballston hit the ground running after Wal-Mart announced last week it plans to build a 192,000 s.f. super center on Route 50 near Route 67. Residents are circulating a petition calling for a 60,000 s.f. cap on commercial buildings. “There is no evidence Wal-Mart has ever come in and had a positive impact on the economy,” Milton resident John Olenik said at the hearing. Citizens complain that Ballston has not updated its land use master plan in more than 16 years. Supervisor Callanan told the Times-Union the community was “a little behind the curve…We’re going to catch up and do the best we can for the town.”
The board voted to look for a planning consultant to help the town revise its master plan. Callanan expects the revision process to take at least a year.
On February 16th, a hearing on the moratorium will take place. If precedent in other towns holds here, Wal-Mart will try to submit a plan to the town before February 16th. But filing such a plan would not automatically exempt the company from the planned moratorium. It would, however, reveal Wal-Mart’s uncooperative and cynical attitude towards local town planning and self-determination.