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2009-10-10
Moon, PA. NASA Hits Moon, But Wal-Mart Keeps Missing

NASA was able to hit the Moon this past week -- but Wal-Mart has spent years trying to land on the Moon and still hasn't hit the target. The retailer's plans for Moon, Pennsylvania have been knocked off course during public hearings. On July 11, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that Supervisors in Moon township had taken one giant step for mankind -- by voting against a preliminary plan for a Wal-Mart superstore -- but one week later, under fear of litigation from Wal-Mart, they reversed their decision and voted in favor of the superstore. The supervisors voted 3-2 against a Wal-Mart preliminary plan for a superstore on July 3rd. But seven days later, at a hastily called meeting on July 10, 2008, they reversed their vote to 4-1 in favor of the plan. Two of the supervisors who voted against the plan said they had "misgivings about the legality of their vote." All Wal-Mart had to do in Moon was threaten to throw its legal weight around, and the supervisors backed down. Wal-Mart has applied to build a 148,561 s.f. superstore on the site of an abandoned 1960s-era mall known as the West Hills Shopping Center, located on one of the community's major intersections, University Boulevard and Brodhead road. There are also two major housing developments abutting the project on its western side. Wal-Mart has 15 stores within 25 miles of Moon, including a Wal-Mart three miles away from this site. The proposed Wal-Mart is incompatible with all the planning the township has done over the past 6 years regarding the special overlay district where this site is located. The township created the University Boulevard Overlay district, a tool to implement their strategic plan for the area. Then Wal-Mart entered the picture, and the strategic plan went out the window. In January of 2007, the public learned that the West Hills Shopping Center had been sold to Wal-Mart for $4.7 million. During their review of Wal-Mart's preliminary plan, the Supervisors quickly became concerned over the potential traffic congestion at the already difficult intersection. Chairman Tim McLaughlin told Wal-Mart representatives that he didn't want to go to his grave knowing that his board was responsible for creating a traffic gridlock. "We have a quality of life that is outstanding," McLaughlin said. "We want to protect our resident's quality of life. We don't want the center of our township to become a gridlock." The objective of the University Boulevard overlay district was to create a district for "regional scale mixed use development," not suburban sprawl. The overlay district flatly states: "Buildings which exhibit long, flat facades and continuous linear strip development are prohibited." The parking lot does not conform to the design guidelines, so Wal-Mart had asked the township to make the overlay district fit the retailer's needs -- rather than the district's requirements. On August 20, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that Moon residents gave the supervisors and Wal-Mart a little legal advice of their own. A group of residents filed an appeal against the Moon Supervisors and Wal-Mart in the Allegheny County Common Pleas Court. The resident's appeal charged that supervisors' decision was "arbitrary, capricious and discriminatory." The appeal sought to overturn the conditional use modification that allowed Wal-Mart to reduce the side setback of its development from 40 feet to 10 feet from the abutting apartment and condo complex on Brodhead Road. "That's my biggest concern," one of the plaintiffs, Edwin Nelson, told the Pittsburg Tribune Review. Nelson is a former Moon supervisor. "If they could build a smaller store, satisfy our traffic concerns and return to the 40-foot buffer, I would not necessarily be opposed to them," he said. By not respecting local zoning provisions, Wal-Mart's superstore turned into another lawsuit for the shareholders to pay for. On November 12, 2008, Wal-Mart came back to the Supervisors for another vote. For the second time, the Supervisors voted to approve the retailer's plans on a 3-2 vote. This week, almost one year after the supervisor's vote, the Wal-Mart project is still misfiring. The Pittsburg Tribune-Review reports that Wal-Mart has amended its traffic plan for the proposal Moon superstore. Plans for a shared road with the Colony West apartment complex next door have fallen apart. Wal-Mart is also proposing a new traffic signal on Brodhead Road. This new plan will have to be approved by PennDOT first. Part of Moon First's lawsuit charged that the shared road would have left only a 10-foot buffer between the development and apartment complex, which does not meet code. Wal-Mart's revised plan gives the retailer its own access road. A Wal-Mart spokesman told the newspaper that the new road will "provide greater distance between the access for our store and the residents of Colony West. The new plan retains the (Colony West) residents' current access drive so they don't have to share with our customers." However, the new road will now be closer to Moon's busiest intersection at University Boulevard, and that has some supervisors worried. A spokesman for Moon First told Sprawl-Busters, "Wal-Mart had one year from submission of their plan to get final approval, but with this new road/traffic revision, we are not sure if the supervisors and Wal-Mart are working behind closed doors to push this through without the public's input within the one year. We are in the midst of an election in early November and if the public knew what this new road/traffic plan is, they would not be happy."

What you can do: There have been a lot of bumps on their trip to the Moon for Wal-Mart. The company could be responsive to the community, and scale down the size of the store, and adhere to the district's requirements -- but it attempted to blast away the opposition instead. The township abandoned its own overlay district plans. Instead of protecting the health, safety and welfare of the residents of Moon, supervisors were voting to protect themselves. The supervisors had plenty of legal reasons to deny this plan -- all of them based on their zoning code -- not on whether or not they liked the store. The township could have written up findings of fact that demonstrate that a 100% retail project is an inappropriate use in an overlay zone designed for 'regional scale mixed use development.' Instead of focusing on the variances requested, the Supervisors lost sight of the overlay district goals and purpose. They could also have raised concerns over the fact that this project will be injurious to the use and enjoyment of other properties in the immediate vicinity. Local opponents had little option but to pursue their legal rights to litigate themselves -- using the same blunt instrument that Wal-Mart used to get the Board to reverse its vote. Readers are urged to email Supervisor Chairman Tim McLaughlin at tmclaughlin@moontwp.com with the following message: "Mr. Chairman, I was amazed to hear that supervisors had voted a second time to approve Wal-Mart's preliminary plans. Their preliminary plan is still too big, and inharmonious with the overlay district it is in. Wal-Mart could solve many of their problems by dramatically shrinking the store, and on their own volition adhere to the setback and design provisions the township painstakingly put into place. This company has the financial capacity to meet all the standards in the district. Supervisors should never have approved a final plan on this site without an independent traffic impact study, a slope stabilization study, a fiscal impact study, a noise study, a lighting/glare study, and an assessment of their impact on abutting residential properties. You had the right under your zoning code to deny this project, and use incompatibility with the overlay district and traffic congestion as just two reasons. Most of the objections to this plan are scale-related. If the township backs down every time a developer threatens litigation, then you really have no Overlay District, and you have no zoning left at all. It's time to enforce your code, and make Wal-Mart fit Moon -- not the reverse.The latest traffic plan by Wal-Mart pushes the congestion problem closer to University Boulevard, and does not solve the problem. The problem is very simple: the store -- and the traffic it will produce -- is just too intense for the site. You said last year that you didn't want to go to your grave having created traffic gridlock in Moon. This latest plan is very grave -- and needs your immediate response."










 
 
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