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2008-12-14
Drumore, PA. Farming Families Win Five Year Battle Against Wal-Mart

On August 3, 2003, Sprawl-Busters reported on the unlikely plan for a Wal-Mart supercenter in Drumore, Pennslyvania, population roughly 2,400 people. Wal-Mart had chosen a site with no water or sewer lines to the farmland on which it wanted to build. However, residents of Drumore vowed they wouldn't let a developer destroy 90 acres of Amish farmland in an area of town known as "the Buck". Developer Wolfson Verrichia wanted to build a 370,000 s.f. shopping center -- anchored by a Wal-Mart supercenter -- including a bank, restaurant, convenience store and possible gas station, with parking for more than 2,000 cars, and generating 25,000 gallons of sewage per day. The so-called 'Drumore Crossing' project on Route 272 attracted opposition from many local residents. An engineer for the project said the site would have to get its water from a 400-foot deep well on the north side of the property. The water system will require a storage tank 40 feet in diameter and 15 feet high. An underground irrigation system would dispose of treated sewage from a sewage treatment plant, also on the property. 25,000 gallons of sewage would be generated daily by the retail uses. The developer told residents he "saw a need in the community" because the nearest large retail center was 9 miles away. "People can be shopping here, not leaving the area," he explained. Local residents formed group to oppose the project, and called themselves "The 196 group", a reference to the Sprawl-Busters.com calculation in 2003 that 195 communities had defeated sprawl-marts already. "There are 195 Wal-Mart stores that weren't allowed in the U.S. because people fought them," spokesman Ron Cariello said. "We're hoping to be the 196th." At a township meeting July 31st, an engineer for the developer suggested that the company was counting on PennDot to fix the traffic problem for them, possibly building a whole new interchange. "They have no idea what they are going to do for fire protection," one resident told Sprawl-Busters, "as our volunteer companies are not equipped to handle that sort of situation. The same goes for police force. They had no answer for the crowd about that. Their waste water is going to be filtered into the headwaters of Fishing Creek, a tributary of the Susquehanna River, as well as a popular place for anglers to fish. When asked if they ever built a center this large utilizing only a well and self contained sewerage system, they said no. They had a middle man buy this farm off of an unsuspecting Amish man who had no idea what they were going to do with it." Residents expressed concerns about crime, loss of wildlife, light pollution and impacts on the nearby creek's headwaters. "If this goes through, our property value's going to be nonexistent," one neighbor told the Intelligencer Journal. "I wish they'd take all their charts and diagrams and get out," Cariello said. "They're ruining a small-town way of life." This past week, more than five years since our last report, residents of Drumore won a stunning victory over Wal-Mart. A Lancaster County Judge, James P. Cullen, rejected an appeal by the Plymouth developer Wolfson Verrichia Group regarding the township's denial of a conditional use permit for the project. The court ruling means that a deal between the developer and the township, set in 2007, was void. Judge Cullen rejected Verrichia's claim that hearing officer Matt Creme "abused his discretion or committed an error of law." Town officials would not comment on the case, but residents who brought the lawsuit felt vindicated. "We're very pleased with the outcome and now just wait to see what the developer does. We believe the judge's decision accurately applies prevailing principles of state law," one of the opponents told the Lancaster Newspapers. "We passionately believe in what we're doing, and it's clear we presented a pretty good case," another opponent told the newspaper. O'Brien said. "In the past, people down here have said that having this shopping center at the Buck is a done deal, but this ruling proves that it is not. This ruling ... is a win for farming families, our quality of life and the rule of law."

What you can do: Ron Cariello, president of the citizens' group SORCE 196, Save Our Rural Community Environment, said the Judge's ruling was "a big win for folks in the southern end. Judge Cullen did the right thing, because this shopping center doesn't belong down here. If Wolfson Verrichia appeals, we'll be here to fight it. We're not going anywhere." The developer has a month to mull over an appeal of the judge's ruling. In February of 2007, the township reached an agreement with the developer, in which the township would drop its opposition to the huge development, if Verrichia paid $170,000 towards the town's legal fees in fighting the project. Shortly after that deal was reached, a hearing officer ruled that the project's sewage system was not adequate. The developer then sued in Lancaster County Court. Judge Cullen in his ruling supported the findings of the hearing officer. The Judge also said that the 2007 deal the township struck to get its legal bills paid, was not binding, because residents were not able to appeal the deal. In the meantime, the developer paid the town $170,000 -- and it's not clear if the town will now have to pay back its settlement money. Readers are urged to call Steven Wolfson, one of the co-owners of the developer Wolfson Verrichia, at 610-277-8899. Call after normal business hours so you can leave this message on their answering machine: "Dear Mr. Wolfson, It's time to let go of Drumore township, and move on to more productive projects. Your group is quoted as saying, 'Different communities have different needs. Our responsibility -- to our retailers, and to the towns where we build -- is to match the right kind of project to the community.' A Wal-Mart supercenter in Drumore was not the 'right kind of project,' and your five year deal-making in the township should end now. The citizens have fought you every step of the way. This project is not good for your firm's reputation. When residents are upset by your project -- enough to take you to court -- you know that the match as not worked. Please move on, and let Drumore get back to the business of being a small town. Your firm should donate the $170,000 to the township, to compensate them for their time and expense in fighting your litigation."










 
 
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