Residents in North Cornwall, Pennsylvania say that Wal-Mart’s time has run out, and the store has been defeated after a contentious two year battle. Lawyers for the Citizens for Responsible Growth (CRG) told the Lebanon Daily News this week that the township failed to act in time to challenge a zoning decision that renders land Wal-Mart needs to build as not properly zoned for retail uses. The 95 acres of land Wal-Mart eyed was rezoned to Commercial in 2003, but has now switched back to office/institutional and agricultural, according to the citizen’s group. “Our position is that we have a deemed approval, and the underlying zoning ordinance amendments never occurred,” the group told the Daily News. “Accordingly, at this time, the properties remain zoned office and institutional and agricultural.” Concern with zoning along Cornwall Road began in early 2005 after Wal-Mart filed plans to build a super center on the west side of the road. In 2006, another developer purchased 110 acres south of the Wal-Mart site. Supervisors were considering re-adopting the township’s entire zoning ordinance due to fears the current ordinance might not stand up to legal scrutiny. A Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling issued last September allows challenges to any local law that has not been adopted according to legally correct procedure — and such challenges are not just limited to 30 days after the local law takes effect. CRG filed a legal challenge to the zoning amendments adopted in 2003, which opened the Cornwall Road area to commercial development. When the land Wal-Mart now wants was rezoned four years ago, the township failed to comply with the legal notice, advertising and procedural requirements, rendering the zoning change null and void, CRG says. The zoning controversy was supposed to be decided by the Zoning Hearing Board, but the proceeding was “beset with problems” the newspaper said. First, the Zoning Board chairman resigned for personal reasons. A second Board member was forced to withdraw from the case, because the developer claimed she had made anti-Wal-Mart comments. With these two members gone, the Board could not conduct business with just one member left. The township supervisors appointed two more members, but both of these new members also stepped down from the case because of apparent conflicts of interest. This meant the Zoning Hearing Board was unable to provide the developer with the opportunity to complete their presentation within 100 days of the first hearing, because of the lack of a quorum. The Board was therefore unable to render a “decision.” The citizen’s group took out an ad in the newspaper proclaiming that the land is now not usable for a Wal-Mart supercenter. The citizens group’s claim that the land has now reverted to office and agricultural, and is not zoned for large scale retail, can been appealed within the next month, and the developer is expected to go to court.
For now, CRG waits to see if its claim is challenged. If it is, the fight will continue in county court. “Let the supervisors know that you are opposed to re-adoption of C2 General Commercial zoning for Cornwall Road,” the group says. “This zoning is what allowed Wal-Mart to come to Cornwall Road. The zoning should more appropriately be ‘Office & Institutional or a ‘Neighborhood Business District’ which restricts building size, hours of operations and prohibits gas stations and other high traffic businesses from coming to Cornwall Road. Public attendance and/or letters to the supervisors are even more critical than they were 2 years ago. We need a strong show of support. We can’t afford to let a few developers and their attorneys run North Cornwall Township and ruin our quality of life. Readers are urged to call the North Cornwall Township Supervisors: Randy B. Hoffman, Chairman, Larry A. Tompkins, Vice-Chairman, and Charles M. Brooks, Jr. Call them at (717) 273-9200, and leave the message: “Don’t rezone land for the Wal-Mart supercenter. North Cornwall will save money by not having to support the supercenter’s crime and traffic problems.”