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Walmart’s halt frustrates officials

Retailer stops project, but could restart it

November 26, 2009
By KAYLEIGH KARUTIS, The Leader-Herald

GLOVERSVILLE - City officials said they are frustrated and angry with news that the proposed Walmart Supercenter project appears to be beyond hope.

"It's very frustrating, because we spent so much time doing what we were supposed to do, reviewing everything," city Planning Board member Rick Bedell said. "I am flabbergasted that such a small item like sewer could kill a project of this scope."

Wednesday morning, Walmart attorney Leslie Senglaub said she has been told by the retailer to stop working on the project after city of Johnstown officials authorized sewer connections to only one of the eight parcels Walmart was asking to be connected. Senglaub also said, however, the project still has a chance if Walmart were to receive all approvals by the end of the year.

Bedell called Johnstown officials "short-sighted."

"They are not looking at the big picture," he said. "They're looking out just for themselves rather than for the entire county."

Gloversville Mayor-elect Dayton King agreed. He said he's frustrated that the leaders of two neighboring municipalities cannot work together constructively.

"It's a shame because this type of behavior will prevent further investors from coming here," he said. "Until we can rise above the, 'what's mine is mine' attitude, this will continue."

King did not put the blame for the project's stagnation squarely on Johnstown's shoulders, though. He said the Gloversville council is suffering from a lack of strong leadership.

"There is no guidance," he said.

King said he believes the project was unduly delayed by the Gloversville Planning Board and plans to call for the resignation of Renato Sanges, longtime board chairman.

Sanges has been criticized for holding up the Walmart project. At a recent Planning Board meeting in which the final environmental impact statement for the project was voted on, Sanges was the only board member who voted against it. He wanted the board to wait until more changes could be made to the document.

"I think Renato Sanges has caused more harm to our city than help, and I will call for his resignation," King said.

King said more communication between the two cities could have helped avoid the problems. He said while he does not deny Johnstown's involvement in halting the project, he said the other municipalities involved should have been consulted earlier to be sure they were on board with the project and would be willing to step up with the necessary approvals when the time came.

First Ward Councilwoman Robin Wentworth, though, said Johnstown had plenty of time to make its concerns known.

"Johnstown was very short-sighted in its decision. To say they did not have the information, well it's right there in the site plan and has been there for years," she said. "The bottom line is this affects the entire county, and it will also affect them, even if they don't see that."

Sanges said he maintains the Planning Board performed its due diligence. He said even though the applicants can pull their plans for development at any time, knowing that doesn't take the sting out of it.

"It's very frustrating. For the board to spend all the time and effort reviewing it and then have something out of our control change it at the very end is very difficult," he said.

Sanges said perhaps those who criticized the Planning Board for moving slowly should have been doing their own reviews in the meantime.

"There was no intent to delay this project," he said. "What's going on now indicates to me that these critics could have been doing something in the meantime to move things along."

Gloversville Finance Commissioner Bruce Van Genderen said without Walmart, the city is in a dire financial situation.

The city would have gained hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in sales tax revenue from the store.

"Without that Walmart, the city could run out of money in 2011," he said. "Couple that with the possibility of state aid cuts, and I have no clue as to how we could balance a budget in 2011."

Van Genderen said cuts to services and city personnel will be absolutely necessary without the sales tax revenue from Walmart.

"We would be slashing departments like you wouldn't believe," he said. "Frankly, I'm personally very disappointed in this turn of events, and I think all the residents of Fulton County should be disappointed."

Second Ward Councilman John Castiglione said if Walmart has indeed abandoned the project, it is a "sad day for the citizens of Gloversville and the citizens of Fulton County."

"It bothers me that Johnstown apparently has the ability to hold the rest of the county hostage," he said. "If this is the way it's going to be, there will be repercussions all around. I feel the whole area, including Johnstown, is going to suffer."

Senglaub said Wednesday she and other Walmart officials have been instructed to halt any work on the Gloversville project.

However, she said if the municipalities involved can work out their differences by Monday, the project could still move forward.

Senglaub also said the company has set a firm date of Dec. 31 to have all the necessary approvals - in addition to the Johnstown approval of sewer to the parcels - from all the involved agencies in place if it is to move forward with the project.

Given Slingerland's steadfast position on the issue and the holiday, it does not appear further discussions will occur before Monday.

Johnstown Mayor Sarah Slingerland maintained the project could technically move forward without sewer to the additional parcels.

Mayor Tim Hughes could not be reached for comment for this story.

Kayleigh Karutis can be reached at gloversville@leaderherald.com.

 
 

 

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