Sandy, Pennsylvania has a population of around 11,600 people. “Great neighborhoods and schools,” the township boasts, “good jobs, bustling commerce, superior transportation access, and year ’round recreation are but a few of the reasons Sandy Township is one of the Keystone State’s brightest stars.” Wal-Mart is part of that “bustling commerce.” Sandy has no Wal-Mart, but there is already a Wal-Mart discount store on Industrial Drive just over the border in DuBois. Wal-Mart wants to build on land located directly behind their existing store, and if they build a supercenter, the discount store in DuBois will close. The Supervisors don’t seem to be concerned about what happens over the line in DuBois. The only problem was the site Wal-Mart wanted was zoned for industrial use only. The supercenter plan ran into strong citizen opposition in Sandy. In May of 2005, the Supervisors approved a rezoning ordinance. In May of 2006 — more than two years ago — citizens concerned about the enormous size of the proposed Wal-Mart, formed a group, Sandy Citizens Arguing for Responsible Economic Development (SCARED), and filed an appeal when the Zoning Board changed the zone in the Industrial Park from industrial to commercial highway just so Wal-Mart could buy it. The citizens appealed to the Supervisors to overturn what amounted to a rezoning just for one company, but the township denied the challenge. The residents then appealed to the Clearfield County court, and lost in May of 2006. Last March, SCARED appealed the lower court’s ruling to the state Supreme Court. That case is still pending. This week the Supervisors in Sandy agreed to several minor changes proposed by Wal-Mart and its developer, Developac. The retailer is back before the township wanting to split off roughly 12.5 acres from a 198 acre site, and use the smaller site for three parcels, not two. The Wal-Mart supercenter itself is being made ‘smaller,’ from 203,000 s.f. to 176,000 s.f. The retailer won’t need as much space for its parking lot. SCARED’s lawsuit lists the zoning hearing board and supervisors as well as Developac as defendants. The lower Court denied SCARED’s appeal in a 2-1 decision, ruling that township officials acted reasonably in their decision. The citizen’s said the rezoning was a case of ‘spot zoning,’ but the lower court disagreed. SCARED also said the property should not have been included in a tax abatement zone, and said the decision violated the township’s comprehensive plan. The group also said it was not given a fair hearing during the rezoning case. When Wal-Mart came in this week for a project that was nearly identical to the first one they submitted, township supervisor Dave Sylvis was quoted in the Gant Daily newspaper as saying, “It is sad to see we are still waiting all this time to get approval on Wal-Mart.” Sylvis said he hopes the court acts soon on the Wal-Mart zoning because his township needs jobs.
There is probably little love lost between public officials in Sandy and DuBois. The two communities are currently battling over wastewater collection rates. Sandy filed a lawsuit against DuBois charging that DuBois discriminated against it when it raised the treatment rates. It also accused the city of removing its rights to negotiate a treatment rate when it paid off a Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority loan that was backed by the township. At this point, the lack of regional cooperation has led to the absurd situation of building a supercenter behind an existing discount store. Readers are urged to email the Sandy Board of Supervisors, Chairman Brady LaBorde, Vice Chairman Jim Jeffers, David Sylvis, Mark Sullivan and Ray “Sarge” Anderson at [email protected] with the following message: “Your community already has a Wal-Mart on Industrial Drive within an easy reach of everyone in Sandy. All that a superstore will do is threaten one or two local grocery stores. This is not a jobs project, because most of the sales at the supercenter will come out of existing cash registers. If Sandy and DuBois had regional planning, this kind of wasteful leap-frog development would not be happening. Your own citizens have taken you to court, and tied this project up for more than two years. Zoning decisions don’t have to be win/lose propositions, but when stores 176,000 s.f. try to locate in a small town, the neighbors are SCARED, and feel like losers. You could prevent this from ever happening again by doing joint land use planning with DuBois, and putting a cap on the size of retail buildings.”