All it took was the whiff of a Wal-Mart to convince town officials in Rotterdam, New York to unanimously vote this week to put a freeze on any new big box proposals for at least the next 120 days. The moratorium only impacts one area of town — but it happens to be the area of town that Wal-Mart covets. Officials actually back-dated the moratorium to begin before Wal-Mart publicly stated it was looking for a site in town to build a supercenter. The over-sized retailer already has a discount store, but according to the Albany Times-Union, the company has indicated it will abandon that store if they get approval for a supercenter, leaving the town with a “dark store” as Wal-Mart likes to call them. Rotterdam residents are upset about the site’s location near an elementary school, and abutting residential neighborhoods. At the public hearing this week, almost everyone who spoke about the project spoke against it. Now that a moratorium has been enacted, a committee of 24 local residents will examine some of the land use issues surrounding this part of Rotterdam. The town’s supervisor said the committee might need to ask for an extension of time to complete its work. During the hearing the issue of a demolition bond came up, because of concerns about the empty discount store that any superstore would create. One resident told town officials to make sure the moratorium committee does a thorough job of studying the issue. “We don’t need new mistakes in our town,” she stressed.
Rotterdam already made one mistake by letting in a large Wal-Mart discount store that now threatens to become a dead store. Now, the town is faced with some clear options for stopping the second mistake, but the issue is: will town officials place a cap on the size of buildings in that part of town, or let the supercenter proceed? Demolition bonds have become a hot topic in a number of towns, given Wal-Mart’s 356 empty stores on the market today, one-third of which have been on the market at least three years or longer. For more information on empty stores, search Newsflash by “empty” or “dead stores.”