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McCandless OKs land development plan for potential Wal-Mart

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Philip G. Pavely | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA
Residents voice their concern before a McCandless Council meeting deciding on whether to allow a Wal-Mart off Route 19 on Monday, July 28, 2014.
ptrwalmart2072914
Philip G. Pavely | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA
Residents fill to capacity an auditorium at Carson Middle School for a McCandless Council meeting deciding on whether to allow a Wal-Mart off Route 19 on Monday, July 28, 2014.

McCandless gave an assist to Wal-Mart in its plan to build a store by speeding through the approval process, two attorneys said during a contentious council meeting Monday night.

“I wouldn’t be standing here if this wasn’t the most egregious consideration of a big box in my more than 32 years of experience,” said William Sittig, an attorney representing O’Hara-based Giant Eagle Inc.

The town council voted 5-2, with Cynthia Potter and Gerard Aufman Jr. against, to approve Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s subdivision application for a store in a Blazier Drive shopping center between Blazier’s intersections with Ingomar and McKnight roads. The council also voted 4-3, with Potter, Aufman and William McKim against, to approve a land development plan.

Wal-Mart plans to demolish two commercial buildings on Blazier Drive and replace them with a 150,000-square-foot supercenter that will include a grocery store, auto center and drive-through pharmacy.

Hundreds of people, most of whom were against the project, attended the council meeting, which was held in Carson Middle School instead of the municipal building.

Opponents have cited the store’s potential to worsen traffic on busy McKnight Road, increase crime and siphon customers from small businesses among their reasons for objecting to the project.

Those in favor of the project, however, counter that the property is in a commercially zoned area that used to have a Kmart and Kroger grocery store, but now is underutilized and in need of a resurgence.

“It’s going to bring tax revenue to McCandless. It will bring jobs to the community. If they’re willing to invest in McCandless, they must think there is business value there. They’re not going to be paving over virgin ground,” said McCandless resident Al Backeris, 59.

Attorney Dwight Ferguson, who is representing six families opposed to the store, and Sittig, whose client, Giant Eagle, has a grocery store in a shopping center on McKnight Road near the shopping center where Wal-Mart wants to build, said that McCandless Solicitor William Reis was incorrect when he said that the council was required to vote by Aug. 4 or the applications would be deemed approved under the state law.

Sittig and Ferguson said that Wal-Mart’s 120-day clock for a vote did not begin until its application was complete, which was not in March when it first submitted the plans to the municipality.

Also, the planning commission didn’t receive the application until July 1, which didn’t allow enough time for the public to review and question the voluminous plans, the attorneys said.

Ferguson said he planned to challenge the council’s approvals in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court, on behalf of his clients.

Town officials said that Wal-Mart was treated as any other business would be, and that Wal-Mart already had granted an extension to the town to make a decision.

Wal-Mart denied council’s inquiry about whether it would grant another extension Monday.

“They want to be treated like every other applicant in this town,” Wal-Mart attorney Dusty Elias Kirk said.

Councilman Ralph LeDonne said he voted for the Wal-Mart plan because most of the constituents who contacted him were in favor of the store because of the convenience and the affordable prices it would offer and because it would improve the look of the area.

Part of the 23-acre site where Wal-Mart plans to build is occupied by a vacant building, at 551 Blazier, that used to contain a Bally Total Fitness and Sun Books, and a building, at 555 Blazier Drive, that contains discount retailer Trader Horn and Brew’ry Outlet North.

Trader Horn and the beer outlet are in a building that was formerly occupied by Kmart. The vacant building used to hold a Kroger grocery store.

Wal-Mart has a sales agreement with WesBanco Inc. to buy both buildings, and it will demolish them, said Adam Benosky, a civil engineer with Philadelphia-based Bohler Engineering.

The retailer also has sales agreements with Blazier McKnight Associates, which owns two mostly vacant parcels on the site, to buy one of its parcels and part of the other one.

A 35-year-old movie theater, which was formerly a Rave theater and now is owned by Plano, Texas-based Cinemark Holdings Inc., operates in the shopping center, but the theater is not part of Wal-Mart’s plans, the retailer has said.

Wal-Mart’s plans include $2.6 million in company-led off-site road improvements, plus another $300,000 for projects that will be led by PennDOT, spokesman Keegan Gibson said.

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