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Rezoning plan concerns landowners

| Sunday, Nov. 16, 2003

A plan to limit where "big box" retailers can build in Cranberry has some property owners complaining that it will cost them money.

Cranberry officials suggest rezoning as part of a plan to restrict large retailers to the southern part of the township, where many such stores already operate, and ban shopping plazas farther north along Route 19.

Doug Hepp, who represents the owners of Cranberry Gardens shopping plaza, said the township's proposal to rezone the portion of Route 19 between Freedom and Brandt roads will drive out local business owners because only national retailers will be able to afford the land.

"That's a direction Cranberry Township does not want to go," he said.

Township planning officials propose rezoning 236 acres along Route 19 north of Rochester Road from a designation that allows retail development to "business park zoning," which does not. Of the 236 acres affected, 111 are either undeveloped or underdeveloped parcels, said Cranberry community planner Elizabeth McCarty.

She said the zoning change for 236 acres still would leave room for almost 7.6 million square feet of retail development -- the equivalent of 63 stores the size of the Cranberry Wal-Mart.

The proposed rezoning also includes 99 acres between Freedom and Brandt roads that township planners want to change to a regional commercial zoning allowing larger stores. The existing stores, such as Wal-Mart, were granted special exemptions to build.

Resident Tom Gray, who lives in the Winchester Farms housing plan off Unionville Road, said he favors the rezoning.

"My feeling is we're going to add a lot of traffic (to Route 19) if we continue to add retail," Gray said.

Cranberry's population grew by almost 60 percent from 1990 to 2000, and retailers such as Dick's Sporting Goods, Best Buy, Target, Home Depot and Lowe's have flocked to the area where Interstate 79, the Pennsylvania Turnpike and Route 19 bring thousands of vehicles daily.

But several Cranberry landowners argue the proposed rezoning in the northern part of the municipality will make their property less desirable.

Don Graham, a Cranberry attorney representing the Meeder family, owners of the farm at Rochester Road and Route 19 as well as several other undeveloped parcels along Unionville and Ogleview roads, said the township zoning proposal misses the mark. The proposed zoning would severely impact the Meeders, who own 80 of the 111 undeveloped acres, Graham said.

He said a town center district -- a mixture of homes and businesses like a small town's Main Street -- should be included in any Cranberry rezoning.

Dave Greb, whose family owns a business and property along Progress Avenue, said rezoning to an office park designation would mean a developer would pay less for the land because it could not be used for retail development.

Charles Bettendorf, whose father and uncle founded Bettendorf Printing 35 years ago along Route 19, just north of Ogleview, said the zoning change could severely impact a future sale of their business because printing, as a light industrial use, would not be permitted in the new zoning district.

"I'd say leave (the zoning) alone. It's been good for the last 35 years," he said.

William Fischel, a professor of economics at Dartmouth University who writes about land use issues, said Cranberry's efforts to rezone the area are a legitimate way to control growth. Fischel, author of "The Economics of Zoning Laws: A Property Rights Approach to American Land Use Controls," said selling property for retail development is a lucrative option for land owners.

"The township is on reasonable ground," Fischel said. "They are not saying you can't develop anything. From an economic standpoint, I don't see any problem with what Cranberry wants to do."

A public hearing on the zoning plan is scheduled for 7 p.m. Nov. 25 at the municipal building, 2525 Rochester Road.

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