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Residents air concerns over big-box rezoning

Residents of the Town of Alden were given an unexpected opportunity Monday to voice their concerns surrounding the town's big-box controversy during a work session where the rezoning of the property at Broadway and Four Rod Road was discussed.

While Town Supervisor Ronald Smith did open the meeting with a warning against public comment he later changed his mind, jokingly stating, "I may regret this" and opened the floor.

Robert Wohlgemuth was the first to speak, asking the board about the town's master plan. Wohlgemuth wondered if such a large rezoning for any giant retail establishment would contradict the original town blueprint.

"The Town of Alden has never officially adopted a master plan," Town Engineer Michael Metzger said. "The town planners may choose to follow [the master plan] to the letter or not at all."

Other concerns brought by citizens included the research that would or would not lay the foundation for a rezoning.

"Is the suitability of the rezoning going to hinge on the research submitted by the developer?" Don Sabo asked the board after hearing that proposed developer Frank Russo did complete an environmental assessment form, which was recently submitted to the town.

Metzger reassured the board and residents that Russo or any other developer would need to hire an independent researcher to conduct any environmental studies, and Smith suggested the town hire its own researcher in order to "eliminate doubt."

"We realize we have a hammer here," Smith told residents. "There is a strong effort to act on behalf of all the people of the town. A lot of people are in favor [of the rezoning], and a lot of people are not. We are trying to make the best decision for Alden."

While Russo did submit an environmental assessment form, areas of the form were left incomplete or filled out improperly.

"We are at a state where we need more information," the supervisor said. "We need to give the developer a list of items that we want to see addressed."

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