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At Each Other’s Throats

Tempers flare as community members debate the future of development in the town of Ballston

 

Nearly 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.

“While 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.

“This 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 out.”

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.

“During 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 cap.

“There 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.

“We 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.”

“Overall, 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 already has.

“Where 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.”

—Chet Hardin

chardin@metroland.net


What a Week

Target: Journalists

The 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 in Baghdad.

White House Storm Watch

Facing 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.

White House Marriage Watch

On 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.



Who Will Pay?

Legislators want to make employers pitch in for their employees’ health care

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.

“Wal-Mart 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.”

—David King

dking@metroland.net



Overheard

Overheard:

“Delaware Avenue’s haunted.”

“Delaware Avenue?”

“Yeah. Something bad happened there.”

—CDTA Route 18 bus, in the midst of a discussion of haunted houses.

 

Overheard:“Question his manhood.”

—Ralph 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.



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