More than 250 angry citizens of Halfmoon, NY turned out in force last night to a hearing of the Halfmoon Planning Board. The object of their frustration? A proposed Wal-Mart supercenter of roughly 213,000 s.f. that abuts residential developments on its eastern border totaling as many as 150 homes. Residents wearing “No Big Box” buttons, urged officials in this town of 15,000 people to require the Wal-Mart to be designated a “Type I Action” under New York’s State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). Under state law, projects involving more than 10 acres of land, or more than 100,000 s.f. in size, or involving more than 1,000 cars — are likely to cause significant adverse impacts to the environment. Wal-Mart exceeds all 3 thresholds. In New York statute, “environment” includes impact on aesthetics, and existing community or neighborhood character. It also includes an examination of “social, economic and other essential considerations”. Residents cited the failing level of service on adjacent roadways, concerns over Wal-Mart’s plans to have an on-site septic system (because Saratoga County has a moratorium on more sewage development), pedestrian safety, noise, visual impacts, traffic congestion, 24 hour operations, and quality of life issues. Wal-Mart officials and the developer offered the community a store with “earth tones” as compensation, and a berm to “hide” the store from the viewline of neighboring residential homes along Plant Road. Halfmoon’s Master Plan says the town “wishes to preserve its semi-rural character” and protect neighborhoods “from incompatible adjacent uses”. When asked by residents what the net financial impact of a Wal-Mart store would be on public revenues (since 4 Wal-Marts exist within a 10 square mile area of Halfmoon), the Wal-Mart representative said he did not understand what the question meant. Speaker after speaker urged the Town Planning Board of 7 members to require a full environmental impact study as part of the SEQRA process, and cited similar Wal-Mart cases that were classified as a Type I project in New York — even much smaller than the Halfmoon project. Such studies can look at short and long term economic impacts on the general welfare.If the Board decides not to require an EIS, it could be the largest retail project in New York state to avoid a full SEQRA treatment.
If Henry Hudson, who first sailed his ship, the Halfmoon, up the Hudson to this small community, could see what developers are doing to upstate New York, he’d probably turn his ship around and head home. There is no such thing as a 213,000 s.f. “semi-rural” store. Developers today seem to think that negative reaction to large stores can be solved by building earthen berms, or erecting fences. They don’t seem to comprehend that such berms and fences are an acknowledgement of design failure. There are ways to make retail developments attractive, to make them imitate the rest of the surrounding built environment. But Wal-Mart’s people seemed to be unable to divert from the standard — except to offer a store of a different color. The company made the same kind of offer to people in Lake Placid, NY: an adirondack motif store with wood facade. Residents in Lake Placid weren’t fooled either. The Planning Board is expected to make their decision about an EIS process within the next couple of weeks. For local contacts, email [email protected]