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Whole Foods Market approved in Upper St. Clair; rival, resident blamed in 3-year delay

Tuesday, April 8, 2014, 10:54 p.m.
 

Upper St. Clair officials rezoned the former Consol Energy headquarters land for redevelopment as a Whole Foods Market, other retail and housing on Monday, but the property owners took the chance that night to blame a resident and a rival grocer for causing three years of delays.

Michael Parrish, attorney for developers Hal Kestler and Jerry Cipriani, said the proposed Siena at St. Clair development at Route 19 and Fort Couch Road had been going through the approval process for three years in large part because of appeals and opposition from resident Moira Cain-Mannix, whom he accused of being a “straw party” for a local grocery chain. He did not publicly identify the grocery chain.

“Cain-Mannix works for the law firm of Marcus & Shapira,” Parrish said. “Marcus & Shapira represents a local grocer almost exclusively, and Cain-Mannix has represented that local grocery chain in a number of cases in the past several years. ... It isn't very hard to connect the dots here.”

The Shapiras are among several families that started the private, O'Hara-based Giant Eagle Inc. Daniel Shapira is part of the ownership group and a principal at the Downtown-based law firm of Marcus & Shapira.

Giant Eagle spokesman Dick Roberts confirmed that Marcus & Shapira had represented the grocery chain before but declined to comment on Parrish's allegations about whether the grocer had recruited Cain-Mannix to oppose the Whole Foods project.

“Giant Eagle doesn't respond to speculative comments,” he said.

Cain-Mannix and Daniel Shapira were traveling on Tuesday and did not return requests for comment.

When developers proposed turning the 28-acre property from Consol's former offices to a mix of residential, office and retail, they were met with hundreds of concerned neighbors and others worried about traffic and crime, and who were supported by Greenfield, Mass.-based Sprawl Busters.

The township commissioners originally amended the definition of its Special Business zoning for the property, so mixed-use development would be allowed if it met specific criteria for lot size, setbacks and ratios of residential to retail. While that decision was tied up in court appeals, the township and developers proposed changing the zoning entirely by creating a new Special Business Mixed-Use zoning that included the same requirements.

One of Giant Eagle's first Market District stores is on Oxford Drive in Bethel Park, not far from the proposed Whole Foods. Trader Joe's and The Fresh Market opened grocery stores within a mile of the site, but neither drew the same level of opposition.

Parrish noted that Cain-Mannix's appeals had been dismissed by the zoning hearing board and Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas because they ruled she lived too far from the development to be affected by traffic, and he said she voiced no opposition when Target and Dick's Sporting Goods added just as much traffic to the South Hills Village mall, across Route 19 from the site.

Tom Ayoob, Cain-Mannix's attorney, said the case was not about traffic but whether the township followed its rules for providing the proper notice and procedures for a development.

He and Matt Racunas, an attorney representing Margaret Witner, another resident opposing the project, argued that changing the property's zoning to Special Business Mixed-Use was “spot zoning,” tailored for the benefit of just one project.

“When you're asked to adopt an ordinance to cater to a specific development, you're proving my point,” Ayoob said.

Commissioners unanimously approved the rezoning without discussion on Monday night.

Cipriani said despite the delays, Whole Foods was anticipating an opening in 2015.

Kestler and Cipriani's company, 1800 Washington Road Associates, has filed a notice of intent to sue in Court of Common Pleas seeking damages in excess of $35,000 against Giant Eagle, Cain-Mannix, Ayoob, Racunas, Witner and Sprawl Busters.

Matthew Santoni is a Trib Total Media staff writer.

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