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Opponents of McCandless Wal-Mart take fight to court

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Friday, Aug. 29, 2014, 3:06 p.m.

McCandless Council went behind residents' backs to approve a Wal-Mart supercenter along Blazier Drive last month, refusing to provide them with details about the store, opponents argued in appealing the decision to an Allegheny County Common Pleas Court judge.

“The town's conduct in this regard has been ... in bad faith and contrary to its fiduciary responsibilities to its constituents, lacking in fundamental fairness, and manifests a gross bias in favor of Wal-Mart's development,” the 17-page appeal filed on Thursday says.

Council vice president Gerard J. Aufman Jr. was one of three members to vote against the project on July 28. He would not explain his vote and said he neither supported nor opposed the appeal.

“It doesn't matter to me one way or another,” he said. “If they want their day in court, that's fine, but I don't know if that's going to accomplish anything.”

Councilman Ralph J. LeDonne declined comment other than to say he voted for the project near Ingomar and McKnight roads because Wal-Mart “followed all the rules and regulations of PennDOT ... and our zoning ordinances.”

Other council members did not return calls or declined to comment citing “advisement from counsel.” Solicitor William Ries did not return calls.

Wal-Mart spokesman William C. Wertz said the company followed all local regulations in seeking approval for the store.

“It's unfortunate that a small number of project opponents are continuing to try to block a new store that will bring affordable shopping options to customers, generate jobs and tax revenue, and benefit the community as a whole,” Wertz said.

Franklin Park lawyer Dwight Ferguson, who represents the 15 residents who appealed, said Wal-Mart representatives began meeting with McCandless officials in late 2013, and submitted reports, studies and plans with their application to develop the land last month.

The public, the appeal said, “knew nothing” about the store until the application appeared on the agendas of council's zoning and finance committees. Company officials presented their application to the committees at a meeting on July 21.

At council's July 28 meeting, residents, “appeared and expressed their frustration; disbelief; questions; requests for an opportunity to see the applications and be represented by legal counsel; and their shock at being ostracized from the process.”

Council ignored their request to delay voting and, after listening to complaints for five hours, voted 4-3 to allow development of the land.

The appeal, which will likely be assigned to Judge Joseph M. James, asks that he make Wal-Mart's plans available to the public, afford opponents the opportunity to present additional evidence and either remand the company's application back to council or rule on the application himself based on the facts.

Adam Brandolph is a Trib Total Media staff writer. He can be reached at 412-391-0927.

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