Town of Ballston, New York
The joys of country living
Business View Magazine interviews Eric Connolly, Town Supervisor of Ballston, New York, for our focus on Economic Development in U.S. Towns and Cities
Southern Saratoga County is home to the small yet friendly town of Ballston, New York. It’s the ideal mix of rural and suburban because of its proximity to both Albany and Saratoga Springs, both busy tourist destinations. With a population over 10,000, the town has a colorful history dating back to 1763. In 1775, the area was a District in Albany County before becoming a town 10 years later. An early resident, Reverend Eliphalet Ball, bought the land from then owners, the McDonald brothers. According to lore, Ball paid the brothers a barrel of rum to name the area Ball’s Town after himself. Over the years, the moniker has been shortened to Ballston. Today, the community offers residents an outstanding quality of life.
“What makes our town so unique is its diversity,” shares Eric Connolly, Town Supervisor. “We have sections of town that are extremely rural with vibrant farms and open space. Then we have the Ballston Lake area, where people can enjoy kayaking and long boarding. We also have a couple bedroom communities separated by the lake. To raise a family, you’re looking for good school districts. We have two excellent ones, The Ballston Spa Central School District (BSCSD) and the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Central School District. You’re also looking for people who care about your property and we certainly have that. Overall, you couldn’t pick a better place in Saratoga County to live, work, and potentially raise a family.”
Rick Reynolds, Town Historian, agrees adding that Ballston is full of variety. Its where he’s lived for 32 years and raised his family. “Our location gives us the opportunity to go into the countryside and get away from it all. The suburban piece allows us the important services we need. We also have events that draw our community together, like our annual Flag Day Parade.”
Ballston encompasses several different areas. Burnt Hills is a rural hamlet within the town. At the north end of Ballston is the village of Ballston Spa. Only 1/3 of that village is within the town and this is where the Ballston Spa Middle and High Schools are located. There is also the town’s zoned rural area with many farms, and Ballston Lake Residential, where the homes are all built around the lake. Finally, there is Ballston Lake Residential District, not on the lake, but an up-and-coming section of town with public utilities. This area is especially growing. Connolly wouldn’t be surprised if the town’s population doubles over the next decade. Once the census is available, he’s anticipating an increase of 4,000 or more, totalling anywhere between 12,000 and 15,000 residents.
He reports, “We are the fastest growing town in the state. With our housing inventory there’s still a bit of a shortage due to COVID-19, but there’s an abundance of construction. We’re building brand-new homes and apartment complexes. It’s an excellent mix of apartments, townhouses, and single-family homes. In the Ballston Lake Residential area, there’s new roads and neighborhoods going in. Two Planned Unit Development Districts (PUDDs) are in progress: Timber Creek Preserve and Stonebridge Enclave. There’s also the Estates at Kelley Farms being built out.” All but eight homes in town have access to broadband internet through Charter Communications.
Connolly expects there won’t be a housing shortage much longer, but the strategy now is to slow down and consider how it will impact the future. For example, the town is redoing its zoning and comprehensive plans. It’s also performing traffic and Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) studies. According to Reynolds, “The community needs the proper amount of housing for people wanting to live here. With the revisions Mr. Connolly discussed, we’re on track for that now.”
At the heart of Ballston are its small and medium sized businesses; local companies that provide most of the services for residents. Reynolds, notes, “It was a big deal when CVS moved into Burnt Hills a decade ago. Now there’s also a McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts. We revel in that we don’t have a lot of chains.” The biggest employers are the school districts and Curtis Lumber Co. Inc. There are three industrial parks – one on McCrea Hill Road off Route 50, the town’s main roadway that is home to productive businesses with only one available lot left. But that park will be expanding. “The second park, off Route 67 is the Curtis Industrial Park, separate from Curtis Lumber but next to it,” explains Connolly. “They have a couple lots, but are looking to expand. There’s a good number of businesses in there. The last industrial park is on Commerce Drive with a handful of commercial businesses. It would be great if we had more industrial areas.”
The area has two professional workforce development associations, the Ballston Spa Business and Professional Association (BSBPA) and the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Business Professional Association (BH-BL BPA). Both organizations work alongside the school districts to ensure students are prepared to enter the workforce. Reynolds clarifies, “We regard ourselves as the area of Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake and that includes the surrounding towns. We’ve got that to draw on with our workforce; it’s been an effective tool for us.”
In the last five years, several medium-sized businesses moved into the heart of Burnt Hills along Route 50. The town would like to further develop this area, but without any sewer utilities along the highway, it’s challenging. We want to improve this, along with walkability,” says Connolly. “It doesn’t have sidewalks along Route 50 going to all the businesses. We have an idea on how to make it happen, but the town doesn’t own that land. We’d have to get cooperation from the businesses.”
In contrast, the other side of town in the village of Ballston Spa has a vibrant somewhat walkable commercial area with a grocery store and lots of room to grow. In addition to improving walkability, Connolly also helped create the Ballston Clean Energy Committee to implement the NYSERDA (The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority) Clean Energy Communities Program. The committee’s paperwork has been submitted and, in the meantime, Ballston is considering being the first municipality in New York State to offer a town-wide opt-out Community Solar program. He details, “There would be a window where everyone would receive education on the specifics and how it would benefit them. They would then decide. So far, we don’t see the downside because it’ll end up providing savings throughout Ballston. They won’t have to do anything; it’ll appear as clean energy credits. We’re excited about that.”
The town is also excited about recent changes to some of its parks. Specifically Anchor Diamond Park at Hawkwood, which is 246acres of land the town purchased. The greenspace has five miles of trails and a conservation easement, so it’ll be kept “forever wild.” There are also many historic structures throughout the park, highlighted with signage and tours. The improvements at Anchor Diamond Park are part of an effort to foster an even deeper sense of community within the town. Further developing all parks, and even potentially creating an official Parks Department, help create a welcoming atmosphere where citizens can gather. There is also a concentrated effort by the town and residents to help keep the rural areas rural. Local government is even looking into implementing tools within the new zoning package to create conservation easements to farmland, as well as open spaces.
Looking ahead three to five years, Connolly has plans to continue improving the town’s outdoor areas. For example, the Ballston Veterans Bike Path is currently about three-and-a-half miles long and ends at the north part of Ballston Lake. He hopes to extend the trail to the north and south, so it becomes one big path connecting the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake (BH-BL) High School all the way to the Ballston Spa Middle and High Schools. This would also connect the Veterans Bike Path to the Zim Smith Trail, a large trail network winding throughout most of Saratoga County.
“We want to bring the town together, increasing the number of community wide events for people from all our areas,” explains Connolly. “We have lots of ideas for events that people can celebrate and be a part of. Like a winter carnival, a town-wide Easter egg hunt, or a passport bike or walking trail event where various stops must be reached. We have an excellent parks committee ready to help us. These things bring people together and that’s something the residents living in Ballston really cherish.”
AT A GLANCE
Town of Ballston, New York
What: A small rural town with lots of potential; population 10,000
Where: Southern Saratoga County, New York State