McCandless approves plans for Walmart

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It started Monday evening with children holding signs such as, “We’re super neighborhoods, not super centers,” and “NO to Walmart” and ended early Tuesday morning with disappointment for most in the audience at Carson Middle School in McCandless. 

Town council gave Wal-Mart subdivision and land development plan approvals for a super center on Blazier Drive at 1 a.m. Tuesday. The meeting was moved to accommodate a larger audience.

The previous week’s Zoning and Finance Committee meeting attracted more than 100 residents who protested Wal-Mart’s plans for a proposed 150,000-square foot store on 23 acres now occupied by Trader Horn, Brew’ry Outlet and a former Bally’s.

McCandless Council approves plans for Wal-Mart

McCandless Council approves plans for Wal-Mart

On July 1, the planning commission had unanimously approved Wal-Mart’s application to build a super center, which Bill Wertz, Wal-Mart spokesman, said would feature a grocery store with fresh produce and dairy, a bakery and a deli, besides general merchandise and apparel.

The township’s response to the public’s growing interest was to move its regular business meeting to a larger venue that could accommodate the crowd. The project was approved despite pleas from residents and lawyers, including William Sittig Jr., who represents Giant Eagle, and attorney Dwight Ferguson, who vowed to appeal council’s decision in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court on behalf of a group of families.

Council members Cynthia Potter and Gerald Aufman Jr. voted against the subdivision plans and land development application. Bill McKim voted to approve the subdivision of the site, which passed 5-2, but voted against Wal-Mart’s land development application, which passed 4-3.

Sale of the property is still pending, but the town’s approval signals another move forward.

Both attorneys claimed that the process was being rammed through, and that there was still time for council members to review more traffic studies and make a more informed decision.

Solicitor William Reis said council must vote within 120 days of any development proposal, and the deadline for the Wal-Mart is Monday. However, Mr. Ferguson and Mr. Sittig pointed out that the application and traffic studies were completed just a few weeks ago.

“We’ve asked Wal-Mart’s legal counsel for more time, and they told us no,” said Mr. Ferguson, who proceeded again to ask attorney Dusty Elias Kirk for a 90-day extension.

“Wal-Mart wants the decision made on the agreed-upon time,” said Ms. Kirk. Throughout the meeting, Mr. Ferguson again asked Ms. Kirk to agree to an extension, and even council member Mr. Aufman posed the question until Ms. Kirk replied definitively, “Since March we’ve been meeting with staff and engineers, and we want to be treated like any other applicant. My client does not consent to the extension.”

For several hours on Monday night and early Tuesday morning, residents took turns at the microphone to warn council of the problems a Walmart store would bring to the area, citing increased crime, which would necessitate more police hires; increased traffic, which could pose threats to those in nearby North Park; more global warming; more gun sales; and lowered property values of neighboring homes.

There was at least one Wal-Mart supporter who said that she lives on a fixed income and would appreciate Walmart’s lower prices.

“If you don’t like the traffic and noise, move to Portersville, because this is progress,” she said, admonishing the rowdy crowd for their apparent lack of respect for council members.

She also said there was no such public outcry against the nearby McCandless Crossing development on McKnight Road when it went through the approval process just a few years ago.

“Walmart will bring tax money, which will improve our schools and roads, as well as 300 new jobs and more choice in where to shop,” she said.

Councilman Robert Powers noted that council members had received phone calls from residents who are happy about the prospect of a local Walmart, but they avoided coming to the meeting because of hecklers.

After the meeting, Mr. Wertz said, “We are very pleased by the vote to approve a new Walmart Supercenter in McCandless. The council recognized that our proposal met all town requirements and had the support of many in the community for the affordable prices and convenience that we offer to our customers. We have plans in place to address the concerns about traffic raised by residents who live near our site. We share their desire for safe and convenient access to our store.”

McCandless manager Tobias Cordek said the development has agreed to comply with various requirements and recommendations from township engineers and has the same right to approval as any other business.

If sale of the property goes through, all three buildings on the site would be demolished. The nearby Rave movie theater property was studied but would not be part of this development, Mr. Cordek said, noting that two-thirds of that site is in a flood zone.

Residents also brought up concerns about the park-n-ride lot that operates out of Rave’s lot. Land use administrator Bruce G. Betty said the Rave Cinema, which is managed by Cinemark, will likely close soon. “Rave owns the property, and they want to sell and develop it,” said Mr. Betty, noting that the park-n-ride may or may not survive the sale.

Jill Cueni-Cohen, freelance writer:

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