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McCandless nixes environmental park deal

Tony LaRussa
| Friday, Jan. 15, 2016, 10:31 p.m.

McCandless' plan to buy the site of a vacant movie theater off McKnight Road and turn it into an environmental park and natural wetlands is dead.

Council voted unanimously Friday night not to seek an extension of an agreement to buy the 26.72-acre property from Dallas-based Rave Motion Pictures.

The extension, which would have run through March 31, was needed to allow for in-depth testing to determine whether soil on the property is contaminated. The sales agreement, negotiated through a partnership with the nonprofit Allegheny Land Trust, is set to expire Jan. 31.

Officials said the deal was halted because of concerns that project costs might be too high.

“I was worried about the cost incrementally escalating and going beyond our capacity to pay,” Councilman William McKim said. “I didn't want to be in the position of having to force the town to have a tax increase.”

Councilwoman Kim Zachary agreed.

“After we looked at all the numbers, the cost kept rising,” she said. “We just felt that it was going to get too expensive.”

The municipality has spent nearly $40,000 on preliminary soil testing and for legal fees, according to Manager Toby Cordek.

In addition to the $1.25 million price tag for the property, officials estimated it would cost $400,000 to demolish the theater and its parking lots, the manager said.

Cordek said McCandless would have had to pay $60,000 to determine whether the site is contaminated, but any cleanup costs would have been paid by the seller.

Solicitor William Ries said that unless council was willing to approve the sales extension and agree to more soil testing, officials should terminate the deal.

“If they don't do the due diligence (additional soil testing) and we buy the property and find a problem, we'd be stuck with that problem,” he said.

Cordek said halting the deal doesn't prevent the site from being sold for commercial use.

The site is in a flood plain — Hurricane Ivan in 2004 resulted in water rising to the seventh row of seats in the theater's sloped auditorium.

The site's zoning was changed in 1987 from commercial to a specially designated “performance zone” that requires extensive grading on the property that could limit the area on which buildings could be constructed to about 5 acres, Cordek said.

Tony LaRussa is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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