Each Other’s Throats
flare as community members debate the future of development
in the town of Ballston
200 people filled Ballston Town Hall Tuesday (May 30) for
a public hearing on proposed changes to the town’s zoning
laws. The heated meeting was divided between those who support
the non- negotiable size caps on new construction and those
who don’t. At many points in the night, the assembled burst
into loud applause, some speakers were heckled, and at one
point a scuffle between two major players broke out.
David Stern, who ran against Ballston Supervisor Raymond Callanan
during last year’s election, claims that during the evening
he was attacked by Frank Rossi, the owner of the land at Routes
50 and 67 where a Wal-Mart has been proposed. Stern has been
a longtime proponent of “smart growth,” and was a founding
member of Concerned Citizens for Smart Growth.
Rossi, Stern said, confronted him and grabbed him by the throat.
Stern said that he freed himself of the grip and tried to
call the police. At that point, he was attacked again, this
time by Rossi’s son, Tony. Stern said that Tony tried to grab
his cell phone and in the process ripped Stern’s shirt. Stern
said he eventually contacted state troopers and filed a complaint
of aggravated assault.
According to Gina Rossi Marozzi, Frank Rossi’s daughter, while
Stern was speaking in front of the board, he was heckled by
a few people. One of the hecklers was her 68-year-old father.
After Stern spoke, she said, Frank Rossi went into the hallway
to talk with a couple of people. Stern came out into the hallway
and confronted Rossi. During the argument, Stern, she said,
grabbed Frank Rossi by the arm and “put him into the wall.”
Stern went to get reinforcements, and Rossi Marozzi jumped
in to keep everyone apart.
David and my father were tangling, a bunch of people jumped
in and pulled them apart and David’s shirt got ripped,” said
Rossi Marozzi. She said her brother, who Stern claims ripped
his shirt, was gone long before the tangle ensued.
whole issue has really torn the town apart,” said Ben Walter,
spokesman for Concerned Citizens for Smart Growth.
It has pitted landowners against the majority of the rest
of the people, he said. “Eighty-six percent of people polled
said they don’t want big-box development. What we do want
is the size caps put back into the zoning that have been taken
According to Stern, size caps were part of the master plan
proposal for the past eight months. Nearly two months ago,
the size caps were increased from 60,000 square feet to 90,000.
Last week, the town board weakened those caps by creating
channels through which retailers would be able to propose
construction of larger than 90,000 square feet.
this whole process, Concerned Citizens has been doing research,”
Stern said. “Price Chopper told us that they are building
60,000- to 70,000-square-foot stores, but that they believed
that the 70,000-square-foot stores aren’t even sustainable
in Ballston. I have been pegged as anti-growth, but I am not.
I am a proponent of growth that fits the size of the community.
We need a supermarket. We thought the 60,000 square feet was
sufficient. Then they came up with the 90,000 cap and we said
fine, we will compromise.”
But they believe that any zoning proposal must include a size
are three reasons why they want the size caps back in,” said
Walter. “It creates a legal defensibility if the town decides
to turn down a building plan. If a project is rejected because
of size, the town could get sued. The size cap would give
the town legal defensibility and signals developers what is
permissible and what is not.” The way the plan is now, they
are going to review projects on a case-by-case basis. So,
the risk they are running is if they reject projects, they
can get sued on a case-by-case basis.
Also, Walter added, smart growth is the best economic plan
for the community. Spending on local business keeps money
in the city, keeps certain elements related to big-box development
out of their community, and maintains the community’s character.
have under 9,000 people in our community,” Stern said. “Wal-Mart
says they draw 1,000 people an hour. You do the math for a
24-hour store. That means everybody in our community has to
go there three times a day to support it, otherwise it becomes
a regional draw.”
what is the good of the community? This property is near the
school. You have the general traffic. What about my rights?
I live right between the high school and where they want to
build this? I made an investment. Now I will have to look
out at a potential Wal-Mart sign?”
One speaker at the meeting agreed that big-box development
will change the character of Ballston. In fact, he said, it
were you when we were trying to stay alive?” asked Lawrence
Lavine. Lavine and his wife, Janet, operated Janet’s V Corners,
a gift shop that made much of its profit from annuals (flowers).
“People in the town of Ballston travel 30 miles to shop. Our
business dropped when the Wal-Mart went into Saratoga. Every
time a Wal-Mart or a K-Mart or a Home Depot or Lowes came
in we took a hit.”
Lavine said that he doesn’t like big-box stores any more than
anyone else, but people just aren’t willing to pay higher
prices to support smaller businesses. “It’s a fact. It’s not
that I want big-box stores, but it’s a fact.”
New York Times reported May 30 that since
the start of the Iraq war in 2003, “71 journalists
have been killed,” which marks this war as the
deadliest (to date) for journalists. This total
was reached on Memorial Day, when two CBS News
employees, Paul Douglas and James Brolan, were
killed by a bomb when they stepped out of their
armored car in Baghdad. Kimberly Dozier, a CBS
News correspondent, was seriously wounded in the
attack and transferred to Landstuhl Medical Center
in Germany after going through several surgeries
House Storm Watch
another potentially devastating year of hurricanes,
the White House is plugging new plans for hurricane-affected
areas. Wanting to prove that the government is
more disaster-ready that it was for Katrina, Homeland
Security and the Pentagon have amassed supplies
that can be quickly distributed during a state
of emergency; Bush’s camp is claiming they have
set aside enough food and water to support a million
people for an entire week. Criticism of FEMA and
the White House by Gulf Coast residents helped
lead to the new plans (that, and the fear of looking
like jackasses again.). This year’s Atlantic hurricane
season is expected to unleash at least 15 major
storms. Hurricane season begins today (June 1)
and runs through November.
House Marriage Watch
May 23, in an example of probing investigative
journalism, The New York Times ran a front-page
story on the state of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s
marriage. They exhaustively interviewed friends
and colleagues of the former—and future?—first
couple, calculating the approximate number of
nights Bill and Hill’ spent together in the last
year. The Media Matters Web site pointed out that
the Times piece also referenced a Globe
cover story on an alleged Bill Clinton gal pal.
(Yes, that Globe, the supermarket tabloid.)
Media Matters then wondered if the Times
would pick up on the cover story on the May 29
Globe: “Bush Marriage Breakup!” We anxiously
await the Times’ in-depth look at the crumbling
love affair of George W. and Laura.
want to make employers pitch in for their employees’ health
Last year, Maryland passed a law ensuring that businesses
with more than 10,000 employees would have to either spend
eight percent of their payroll on health benefits or deposit
funds directly into the state’s health program for the poor.
Although the bill didn’t directly state it, the only business
affected by the law was Wal-Mart. If it is up to some legislators,
the Working Families Party and a number of labor groups, New
York will pass similar legislation without being as selective
of its targets.
is kind of an ugly poster child for this movement,” said Alex
Navarro, spokesman for the Working Families Party. “But it
is a problem that certainly goes beyond Wal-Mart. Most employers
do the right thing, but there are certainly more than a handful
that deserve a place on a poster of health care shame.”
The legislation being promoted by the WFP and several New
York state legislators would be similar to Maryland’s but
more far-reaching. The bill, called the Fair Share Health
Care Act, is one of four that would ensure that at least 99
other businesses join Wal-Mart on the WFP’s poster of shame.
The act would require employers of more than 100 workers to
pay $3 an hour if they are not providing employees with health-care
insurance. The bill excludes farmers and manufacturing companies.
Some of the employers the WFP expects will be affected by
the legislation include Starbucks, Home Depot, McDonalds,
Wendy’s and Stewarts.
During an Assembly hearing May 23, Elliot Shaw, a health-care
lobbyist for the Business Council of New York State Inc.,
insisted that “Wal-Mart bills” are not fair to employers and
will cost New York state a number of jobs. He noted that “one
bill, interestingly, exempts manufacturing and agriculture
because of concern about job dislocation. That concern should
extend to employers of all sizes, in all industries, in all
parts of the state.” Other critics of the bill claim it does
not take into account working teens who already have insurance
coverage from their parents. They also insist that the bills
proposed in the New York State Legislature are not thorough
enough, ensuring that only a fraction of workers without health
care will get it. According to a study by the Employment Policies
Institute, “The majority of uninsured in New York are either
unemployed or employed at firms with fewer than 100 employees,
which means most of the bills would not provide insurance
to the uninsured.”
Navarro disputed the study and insisted that, while the act
will not take care of every uninsured person in the state,
it will “make a large dent” in the uninsured population of
New York state. He said the plan will likely cover 450,000
people—17 percent of New York’s uninsured.
Tony Lloyd, a WFP member from Scotia, declared that “having
more people insured will create more jobs in the health care
industry.” Lloyd admitted that “maybe if you have a teenager
that works 30 days in the summer, maybe they should be exempt
from this,” but he insisted that “there are sensible negotiation
points the Working Families Party and the bill’s sponsors
are willing to come together on. But you know anytime you
come to business-community people like the Business Council
and tell them, ‘We’re gonna make you pay health care cause
you are making billions in the state,’ they get all upset
about that. They think they should get welfare, and we think
that they shouldn’t.”
Lloyd said that businesses like Wal-Mart pass down health-care
costs to the taxpayers of the counties they do business in.
“Stores like Wal-Mart don’t offer plans viable enough for
their employees,” he said. “On seven dollars an hour it is
difficult for them to pay a co-pay or premium. They, unfortunately,
go on Medicaid. Fortunately, it is there for them, but the
county taxpayer ends up paying that in property taxes. We
all end up paying it.”
Legislators have until the end of the session in late June
to hash out the details of the Fair Share Health Care Bill.
If they are successful, there is the question of whether Gov.
George Pataki will sign it. Although Pataki is known for being
friendly to business, some expect his political aspirations
may come into play. (Pataki is thought to have his eye on
the White House.)
Lloyd said that the WFP and the bill’s sponsors are not asking
too much of the businesses in New York state. “All we’re saying
is, ‘Get your hand out of our pocket! We already go to your
stores, get our groceries at your store, shirts at the Gap,
and every now and again someone sneaks into Wal-Mart.”
Something bad happened there.”
—CDTA Route 18 bus, in the midst of a discussion
of haunted houses.
Nader, at a press conference Tuesday supporting
Alice Green, in response to a question about how
Green could convince Mayor Jerry Jennings to participate
in a debate.
loose ends this week