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Wal-Mart planners run into Route 30

| Tuesday, May 8, 2012, 4:45 a.m.

A judge tossed out a handful of the nearly three-dozen conditions North Huntingdon Township placed on a planned Wal-Mart development near the turnpike interchange.

Westmoreland County President Judge Daniel J. Ackerman threw out five of the 31 conditions and modified another in the appeal by Mills Barnes Lake Partnership, the corporation formed for the project that includes construction of a 200,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter and a separate 75,000-square-foot plaza.

Among the conditions left standing is a requirement that the developers obtain $6 million worth of funding to widen Route 30 to six lanes in front of the proposed complex.

The township won't issue the occupancy permit for the shopping complex until funding for the road improvements is included as a specific line item in the state or federal budget.

"Route 30 won the day," said Planning Director Allen Cohen. Without those additional traffic lanes, the development won't be built.

Township commissioners approved the controversial project in January 2004, contingent upon the conditions. The partnership appealed the conditions a month later, arguing that the commissioners committed errors of law by attaching the conditions to their approval.

McHolme Builders Inc. and the DeBartolo Property Group want to build the shopping complex on 57 acres owned by Robert and Ann Mills off Barnes Lake Road.

The plan calls for relocating the intersection of Route 30 and Barnes Lake Road to the west side of Teddy's Restaurant.

Craig Alexander, the township's solicitor, said he was encouraged by the decision.

"They challenged virtually every one of the conditions. This board worked very hard to place reasonable conditions that were upheld by the trial court," he said.

The proposed Mills Pointe Plaza is the first shopping center to come up for consideration under new regulations adopted by the township last year. Although the property is zoned commercial, the new rules require that shopping centers be approved as a conditional use.

Attorneys for Mills Barnes Lake Partnership argued that forcing the developers to install and synchronize traffic signals and control traffic patterns constituted "off-site improvements," while the improvements to Route 30 that the township had sought would need the consent of third parties.

Ackerman threw out conditions that required the developers to:

  • Remove an egress restriction from the Giant Eagle parking lot onto Pennsylvania Avenue in Irwin

  • Install a traffic signal and make intersection improvements at Norwin Avenue and Barnes Lake Road

  • Install a traffic signal and make intersection improvements at Caruthers Lane and Barnes Lake Road.

  • Order a traffic study of intersections at Kohl's Drive and Barnes Lake Road Extension, Pennsylvania Avenue and Delaware Avenue.

    The egress restriction was recently removed as part of the development of a Target store at North Huntingdon Square. The 125,000-square-foot store will open in 2006.

    Developer Robert Shuster, who purchased the Lincoln Hills Country Club adjacent to the Mills property and plans to convert it to a housing community, told the planning commission recently that he will install a traffic signal at Norwin Avenue and Barnes Lake Road as part of that development.

    Ackerman modified the traffic signal synchronization the township sought, ruling that three signals were off-site. The developers will be required to synchronize two signals -- one at the relocated Barnes Lake Road and Route 30 and another at Mills Drive and Route 30.

    Commissioner Tim Hondal said he had hoped to win the light synchronization issue.

    "The synchronization of lights on Route 30 is critical to emergency response," he said.

    Attorney Bill Sittig, representing the developers, and Norman McHolme, of McHolme Builders, could not be reached for comment.

    Mark Christman, attorney for a group of residents opposed to the project that petitioned to intervene in the appeal, also could not be reached for comment.

    Each party in the case has 30 days to appeal.

    Cohen said that barring any further appeals, the next step in the process will be for the developer to apply for grading permits to begin excavation work at the site.

    The development would be the largest shopping complex in the township. It will require the relocation of more than 800,000 cubic yards of earth to make the hillside ready for construction.

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