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2009-04-17
Cecil, PA. County Authority Refuses To Sell Land For A Wal-Mart Superstore

It didn't take long for the residents of one small Pennsylvania town to speak out against Wal-Mart. On March 10, 2009, Sprawl-Busters reported that developers and Wal-Mart were pulling a major bait-and-switch in Cecil Township, Pennsylvania, a community with a population of around 10,336 as of 2007. According to the Pittsburg Business Times, two developers, Horizon Properties Group LLC and Cullinan Properties Ltd. have joined up to do an extreme makeover of a project known as "Southpointe Town Center," which is neither a town, nor a center. This project in Cecil Township is part of Southpointe II, a public-private partnership between Horizon Properties and Washington County, Pennsylvania, a new mixed-use community sitting on 589-acres in Cecil. But now the project team wants to convert a mixed use project into a retail center anchored by a Wal-Mart supercenter. Southpointe Town Center was supposed to be a "pedestrian-scale streetscape of boutiques and restaurants" according to the Business Times, complete with office space and a 14 screen Cineplex. But now Horizon and Cullinan have made a radical change: 500,000 s.f. of retail, showcased by a Wal-Mart supercenter. One insider on the Cecil deal said that these developers are trying to convince Wal-Mart to drop out of plans in North Strabane, Pennsylvania, and move to Southpointe in Cecil instead. The community of Cecil is already heavily saturated with Wal-Marts. There are 12 Wal-Mart stores within 25 miles of Cecil, including 7 superstores. There is a Wal-Mart discount store less than 6 miles away in Carnegie, and a superstore 8 miles away in Pittsburg. To date, the residents of Cecil have had little opportunity to respond to this dramatic switch, which only came to light in early March. Nothing has been presented yet to the Board of Supervisors in Cecil. The Business Journal said the change to a big box format instead of a "lifestyle" center with upscale boutiques, is because the market is not strong for the "lifestyle retail center" with an "open-air walkable urban neighborhoods with a town center lined with a mix of stores that include fashion boutiques, restaurants and entertainment." "It's obviously a very dramatic change to what their original plan was and what the township bought into," one real estate analyst said. "At the same time, the lifestyle development business has screeched to a halt. So what do you do?" Instead of stores like Orvis, American Eagle, and Coldwater Creek, the developers are playing it safe with Wal-Mart. So much for pedestrian scale. But this week, just over a month from our last report, Wal-Mart's plans hit a Wal. On April 15th, the members of the Washington County Authority refused to vote on the proposal for Southpointe II. According to the Pittsburg Post-Gazette, by taking no vote, the Authority "essentially killed" the project. The Washington County Commissioners -- who appoint the members of the Authority -- had little positive to say about Wal-Mart. "Southpointe II is a really special place," county Commissioner Larry Maggi told the Gazette. "It's the hottest real estate in Western Pennsylvania, maybe in the Tri-State area." The Authority essentially refused to sell 20 more acres to Horizon Properties. Sprawl-Busters conducted phone calls in Cecil Township this past week to alert residents to the dramatic change in character that Wal-Mart would bring to Cecil. As a result, at least 70 people showed up at the Authority hearing in opposition to the plan. What the seven member Authority board heard was that a big box mall would congest traffic, harm local merchants, and adversely impact the ambiance of Southpointe II, which was supposed to be upscale and unique. "It is obvious that there is no support from the board on this issue," board Chairman Alan Velicky told Horizon, when no member of the Authority was willing to take a motion to sell the land to the developers. After the vote, Commissioner Maggi told the Pittsburg Business Times, "The developers have done a great job and it's nothing against Wal-Mart. But they were looking for a vision of that area, which is supposed to be town center square, a downtown area with residential, and a big-box retail did not fit into the vision."

What you can do: Almost immediately after the Authority vote, the developers went on the offensive with the area media to salvage their mall. Rod Piatt, the president of Horizon Properties, told the Pittsburg Business Times that his proposal was "still very much alive." He explained that even though he was denied his 20 acres, his company still own 50 acres in the mixed up industrial park, which is enough to build the Wal-Mart superstore. "We don't need that 20 acres -- it was needed just to do the right thing," Piatt said. "We're just disappointed. It may end up looking better, who knows?" Sprawl-Busters reported last month that officials in Cecil Township had already caved in to Wal-Mart. One township official told the Business Times, "If Wal-Mart meets the basic requirements of the Planned Overlay District over there, I think it would be very difficult to keep Wal-Mart out." Readers are urged to email the Chairman of the Washington County Commissioners, Larry Maggi at maggil@co.washington.pa.us with the following message: "Dear Chairman Maggi, Thank you for speaking out against the Horizon plan to 'Wal-Martize' Southpointe II. The Cecil area is already saturated with Wal-Marts. Just minutes away in Carnegie, and a short drive to the supercenter in Pittsburg. Don't let the developers turn your town center mixed use project into a big box mall. Horizon clearly is thumbing its nose at local residents by suggesting that they will just use other land for their Wal-Mart. The new Town Center plan is a real bait-and-switch -- regardless of which acreage they put it on. The Commissioners will have to be aggressive in fighting off this plan -- but the results will be worth it to local residents. The vision of Southpointe II as the "idyllic town center" may not be on Horizon's horizon -- but the Commissioners can use your zoning code and the concept plan for this project to keep big boxes out. The citizens of Cecil will support you."










 
 
"Norman has become the guru of the anti-Wal-Mart movement" ~ 60 Minutes

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