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Giant Eagle says Whole Foods suit 'without merit'

| Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014, 11:06 p.m.

The developers of a planned Whole Foods Market in Upper St. Clair added Giant Eagle to a lawsuit claiming the rival grocer fought their efforts to build on the former Consol Energy headquarters site.

Jerry Cipriani and Hal Kestler, doing business as Washington Road Associates, filed their complaint in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court late last week naming Giant Eagle as a co-defendant in the case. They say the O'Hara-based company made numerous attempts to derail or delay inclusion of Whole Foods in a mixed-use development at Washington and Fort Couch roads. The suit also names attorney Tom Ayoob and Greenfield, Mass.-based Sprawl Busters as co-defendants.

“Contrary to the allegations in the complaint, Giant Eagle consistently has acted ethically in voicing its concerns about the development and the potential impact on the surrounding community,” a statement from Giant Eagle spokesman Rob Borella said. “The complaint contains numerous material misstatements and is wholly without merit.”

The lawsuit said the defendants “conspired to unlawfully stifle competition to Giant Eagle's Bethel Park Market District store.”

The developers are seeking unspecified damages for lost business and mounting costs related to delays in the project.

The complaint says Giant Eagle, which has a Market District store less than a mile from the development site, first attempted to discourage Consol from selling its former headquarters to Washington Road Associates. When that didn't work, Giant Eagle executives met with WRA and offered to buy a large stake in the development, in exchange for cutting out Whole Foods.

The suit claims that Giant Eagle funded Sprawl Busters, a group that helps communities organize resistance to big-box developments. It also accuses Giant Eagle of recruiting and financing “straw plaintiffs” to challenge and appeal the project's approval at various stages.

Giant Eagle officials have said they provided legal, technical and financial support to residents opposed to the project, but cited shared concerns over traffic the project could generate — not the inclusion of a competing grocery chain — in doing so.

Ayoob, who represented resident Moira Cain-Mannix in her appeals of the project, said his role “has been based upon the facts in the cases” and law he believed to be applicable; he noted other issues with the site's zoning remain under appeal. Representatives for Sprawl Busters could not be reached. WRA is suing Cain-Mannix in a separate case.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni @tribweb.com.

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