Rival grocers tangled in suit in Upper St. Clair
Owners of the former Consol Energy Inc. property in Upper St. Clair are suing a resident, claiming she abused the legal process to prevent construction of a Whole Foods Market there.
Rival grocer Giant Eagle, which has a supermarket nearby, confirmed on Tuesday that it is supporting the defendant with “legal and technical support.”
Gerard Cipriani and Hal Kestler, doing business as 1800 Washington Road Associates, filed a lawsuit this week in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court against Margaret Witner, 69, seeking a jury trial and unspecified damages.
They claim Witner obstructed their proposed development at Washington and Fort Couch roads. Though Witner appealed numerous municipal decisions on the project, she always speaks through her attorneys, Cipriani said.
“Since she has never appeared for any hearings or board meetings, we want to make sure she testifies on-record about her motives and concerns,” he said. The lawsuit claims Witner's appeals delayed construction and cost the developers lease payments, legal fees and construction costs.
Whole Foods did not respond to a request for comment.
Giant Eagle said in a statement that it offers help to residents who “exercise their constitutional rights” to oppose such developments, and that the company is concerned that the mixed-use complex would worsen traffic in the Route 19 and Fort Couch Road area.
“Giant Eagle does not believe the proposed development is in the best interest of the community and that any zoning changes should be enacted in full compliance with the law,” the statement said.
Giant Eagle had “preliminary discussions to invest in or acquire the property in question,” the statement said.
Witner declined comment, referring questions to attorney Matthew Racunas. He couldn't be reached, but has said Witner objected to “spot zoning,” or rezoning the property in a way that's inconsistent with its surroundings and tailored to benefit a specific tenant.
The lawsuit alleges that Giant Eagle executives told the developers they did not want a Whole Foods Market less than a mile from the Giant Eagle Market District in Bethel Park, and “would do whatever it could to prevent Whole Foods from locating its store at the Washington Road property.”
Witner “has agreed to act as the surrogate of others,” but does not state that she is acting on Giant Eagle's behalf, the lawsuit says.
The developers' attorney said in public hearings that “a local grocery chain” — without naming one — has backed appeals by Witner and another resident, Moira Cain-Mannix, who works for a law firm that frequently represents Giant Eagle.
Cain-Mannix has said she is not a “straw party” for Giant Eagle.
Matthew Santoni is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5625 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Add Matthew Santoni to your Google+ circles.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Teens elevate Western Pa. communities with Eagle Scout projects
- More fear ‘tackle’ football too risky for kids
- 50 years later, Vietnam vet gets his degree at Westminster
- Museum’s ‘Carnegie Trees’ exhibit shows ‘Winter Wonders’
- Mt. Lebanon history center project gets OK
- eReader books also available to borrow at local libraries
- Decorated World War II veteran gets visit, gift from ex-Steeler