New Garden residents angered over Wal-mart waiver

posted Thu, Jan 26, 2012

By P.J. D'Annunzio

The Kennett Times

November 23, 2011

With 3-2 vote, Board of Supervisors passes a waiver allowing PREIT to circumvent the normal development process in the creation of a new supercenter

NEW GARDEN — It is not uncommon these days to hear stories of small town residents fighting big business in an attempt to preserve their communities. Americans have been known to favor the underdog, but the reality is set farther apart from than the romanticized notions many in the township have held over this issue.

A 3-2 vote was rendered by the New Garden Township Board of Supervisors to grant a waiver to the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT) to transfer ownership rights to the White Clay Point Town Center from a subdivision format to condominiums.

PREIT is the organization behind the development of such commercial centers as Main Street in Exton and the Voorhees Town Center in Voorhees NJ, to name a few.

“Some tenants come into developments where they can finance and separately secure their financing against either a parcel or a condo unit,” said Greg Aldeman, Spokesman and Legal Counsel for PREIT. “If you take away these units and it just becomes one big town center with no individual interests in the ownership of these buildings, you will discourage certain tenants from coming.”

The condominium format, while beneficial to PREIT, may increase the risk of units remaining vacant after businesses fail or move out, creating potential eyesores in the community and detracting from New Garden’s rural heritage and putting a blemish on Open Space.

The debate, however, lies in the sentiment of the residents, who in passionate discourse with the township relayed their growing distaste toward the concept of the large shopping center and also the perception that PREIT did not adequately relate “undue hardship,” a condition that is required for a waiver to be granted in such circumstances.

“A settlement agreement is a settlement agreement,” Attorney Dwight Yoder said to the BOS. “They have to show hardship. Even if there’s a lot of revenue coming in and the township could benefit financially, they have to show hardship…I would just say be careful what you wish for. I wonder if the transfer taxes will accommodate the one or two new police officer’s salaries needed to monitor a complex like this, to deal with the traffic problems, to deal with the shoplifting calls that will come from this store and that will have to be prosecuted.”

Yoder represents roughly 40 New Garden families in this dispute, including those of the Somerset Lake community located near the construction site of the town center.

“This is a classic self-induced hardship,” he continued. “You can’t create the hardship and then go to the municipality and say ‘By the way township, we have a hardship and we want to waive the plans.’ It’s my opinion that this is a way to essentially use a waiver as a backdoor way to get variances to zoning ordinances.”

Yoder then asked township solicitor Neil Land if, in his opinion, PREIT had demonstrated undue hardship before the board in their reasoning.

After reiterating the issue for some time, Land came to the conclusion: “No they have not.” However, the decision still rested in the hands of the Supervisors.

The meeting dragged on, from 7 PM to 11:30 PM, with citizens battling the township and PREIT in impassioned speeches, sometimes inciting uncontrollable crowd eruptions. Toward the end of the meeting, retiring supervisor Barclay Hoopes gave his take on the issue in a monologue that ranged from heartfelt to irate.

“How am I as a supervisor going to resolve this thing?” he stated. “We still haven’t solved the problem…Wawa’s going to be built and Wal-Mart is going to be built, regardless of any decision made tonight. It’s going to happen.”

“Another thing,” he continued, “I’m very concerned about our national economy. There are a lot of people out there who need jobs right now. Maybe we ought to put them to work…I value this community, I value each and every one of you.”

After the decision was made to allow the waiver, Warren Reynolds addressed his fellow board members.

“You’re granting a waiver that we’ve never granted before to the biggest entity we’ve ever dealt with, that has no hardship.” he said. “New Garden Township just got taken to the cleaners.”

The construction of the Wawa and the 181,000 square foot Wal-Mart complex is set to be completed in 2012, after breaking ground later this year.

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For more information, please visit the Friends of New Garden website.

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