Sandy and DuBois, PA. Citizen Litigation Delayed Wal-Mart Opening
Sandy, Pennsylvania has a population of around 11,600 people. "Great neighborhoods and schools," the township boasts, "good jobs, bustling commerce, superior transportation access, and year 'round recreation are but a few of the reasons Sandy Township is one of the Keystone State's brightest stars." Wal-Mart is part of that "bustling commerce."
On June 17, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that Sandy has one Wal-Mart discount store. But it's days are numbered now, because Wal-Mart is about to open up a new superstore in the town of DuBois, Pennsylvania, right behind the existing store in Sandy. Wal-Mart wanted to build on land located directly behind their existing store, and as they prepare to open the supercenter in DuBois, the discount store in Sandy will shut down. The Supervisors in Sandy don't seem to be concerned about what happens over the line in DuBois.
For Wal-Mart, the only legal problem was that the site they wanted was zoned for industrial use only. The supercenter plan ran into strong citizen opposition in Sandy. In May of 2005, the Supervisors approved a rezoning ordinance. In May of 2006 -- more than four years ago -- citizens concerned about the enormous size of the proposed Wal-Mart, formed a group, Sandy Citizens Arguing for Responsible Economic Development (SCARED), and filed an appeal when the Zoning Board changed the zone in the Industrial Park from industrial to commercial highway just so Wal-Mart could buy it.
The citizens appealed to the Supervisors to overturn what amounted to a rezoning just for one company, but the township denied the challenge. The residents then appealed to the Clearfield County court, and lost in May of 2006. In March of 2008, SCARED appealed the lower court's ruling to the state Supreme Court. The state Supreme Court rejected the last challenge by SCARED, in October of 2008.
In June of 2008, the Supervisors in Sandy agreed to several minor changes proposed by Wal-Mart and its developer, Developac. The giant retailer came back before the township wanting to split off roughly 12.5 acres from a 198 acre site, and use the smaller site for three parcels, not two. The Wal-Mart supercenter itself was being made 'smaller,' from 203,000 s.f. to 178,000 s.f. Wal-Mart said under its new plan it wouldn't need as much space for its parking lot.
SCARED's original lawsuit named the zoning hearing board and supervisors as well as Developac as defendants. The lower Court denied SCARED's appeal in a 2-1 decision, ruling that township officials acted reasonably in their decision. The citizen's said the rezoning was a case of 'spot zoning,' but the lower court disagreed. SCARED also said the property should not have been included in a tax abatement zone, and said the decision violated the township's comprehensive plan. The group complained that residents were not given a fair hearing during the rezoning case.
When Wal-Mart came back to the Supervisors in June of 2008 for a project that was nearly identical to the first one they submitted, township supervisor Dave Sylvis was quoted in the Gant Daily newspaper as saying, "It is sad to see we are still waiting all this time to get approval on Wal-Mart." Sylvis said he hoped the court would act soon on the Wal-Mart zoning because his township needed jobs.
This week, nearly two and a half years after the first Sprawl-Busters' story on Sandy, the new Wal-Mart supercenter in DuBois is about to open. The ribbon-cutting will be October 13th. When the new superstore opens, Wal-Mart discount store #1769 will be torn down, and filled in to make way for a new parking lot for the superstore. Wal-Mart told the Courier Express newspaper that the superstore would be hiring "150 new employees or transfers from other stores," which means the net employment change will be negligible, since most workers will transfer from the Sandy store.
At 6 pm on October 12th, Sandy's Wal-Mart discount store will shut down its registers. The new superstore, at 178,000 s.f. will be 20,000 s.f. larger than an existing Wal-Mart supercenter 20 miles to the east along Route 80 in Clearfield, Pennsylvania. None of this land use would have been necessary if Wal-Mart had just remodeled its existing store in Sandy into a supercenter.
What you can do: Because of citizen opposition, this project took more than five years to open from the time the Dubois Supervisors voted to approve the zoning change in May of 2005. This superstore would have been open several years ago if SCARED had not mounted its challenge. The citizens have cost Wal-Mart close to $100 million a year in lost sales.
There is probably little love lost between public officials in Sandy and DuBois. The two communities have tussled over wastewater collection rates. Sandy filed a lawsuit against DuBois charging that DuBois discriminated against it when it raised the treatment rates. It also accused the city of removing its rights to negotiate a treatment rate when it paid off a Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority loan that was backed by the township. At this point, the lack of regional cooperation has led to the absurd situation of building a supercenter behind an existing discount store.
Readers are urged to email the Sandy Board of Supervisors, Chairman Brady LaBorde, Vice Chairman Jim Jeffers, David Sylvis, Mark Sullivan and Ray "Sarge" Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org with the following message:
"Your community already has a Wal-Mart on Industrial Drive within easy reach of everyone in Sandy. All that a superstore will do is threaten one or two local grocery stores. This is not a jobs project, because most of the sales at the supercenter will come out of existing cash registers. If Sandy and DuBois had regional planning, this kind of wasteful leap-frog development would not be happening. Your own citizens have taken you to court, and tied this project up for several years. Zoning decisions don't have to be win/lose propositions, but when stores 178,000 s.f. try to locate in a small town, the neighbors are SCARED, and feel like losers. You could prevent this from ever happening again by doing joint land use planning with DuBois, and putting a cap on the size of retail buildings.
The land in question was supposed to be used for industrial jobs -- hence the name Industrial Drive. You could have waited for decent-paying industrial/research jobs to come along instead of low-wage retail. This new superstore is an economic mistake, and a waste of useful land. The 'old' store could have been converted into a superstore five years ago without any size increase or zoning change."