Residents appeal T&M Hardware plans

Mar. 26—Seven Neshannock Township residents have initiated a lawsuit to appeal the approval of a land development plan for T&M Hardware.

The court action, filed Monday in the Lawrence County Court of Common Pleas, is by residents Steve Craig, James C. Andrews, Annette Andrews, James Jakim, Dr. Walter Bender, Sara Bender and Pat Cornich against the township supervisors.

Multiple residents of that neighborhood further petitioned the supervisors to have the speed limits lowered from 35 to 25 mph on several roads in their residential development, which is near or adjacent to the proposed retail business.

The supervisors advertised and will consider the adoption of an ordinance to lower the speed limit at their regular meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

The court filing by the seven residents claims the supervisors violated the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, the state Ethics Act and various sections of the township zoning and subdivision and land development ordinances.

The filing does not list an attorney representing the residents.

The Sunshine Act challenge in the lawsuit indicates that the supervisors had listed on their Feb. 28 agenda, "approval of the land development plan for T&M Hardware," and that the word "approved" meant the supervisors already decided to approve the plan before the meeting.

The appeal further contends Supervisor Leslie S. Bucci, who voted in favor of the plan, is the sister-in-law to Gale E. Measel Jr. Measel is the seller of the property to T&M Hardware and is the developer of the property. The filing notes that Bucci's sister is employed by Measel's firm. It also notes that Bucci and her husband flew to Aruba with Measel and his wife, indicating it is a conflict of interest.

The court action also argues that by allowing the project to proceed, public safety is infringed upon because of the potential increase in commercial and delivery traffic onto Fruitland Drive, a residential street.

Another argument of the residents in the filing is that the maximum lot coverage allowed under the zoning ordinance is 40 percent. The plan submitted for the hardware store indicates that the building would cover more than 50 percent of the property. It further notes that hardware stores and rental centers are not defined as uses in the township zoning ordinance and are not allowed in a C-2 Highway Commercial zone.

The suit further argues the proposed store would stock hazardous, flammable substances and there is no information on fire protection. It does not specify what hazardous/flammable substances are of concern.

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It also argues that "retail use" under the ordinance is overly broad, that the plan does not meet the landscape, screening and tree requirements and there is no "clear sight triangle" at the intersection of the proposed store.

Bucci commented the matter has been referred to the township solicitor for review, and the supervisors at this time have no comments on the contents of the appeal other than the board of supervisors having met all of the required procedures in reviewing the land development plan. She said the township Solicitor Louis Perrotta would address all of the issues, including the ones cited about her personally.

The supervisors approved the land development plan for the hardware store at their Feb. 28 public meeting, after hearing public comment. The plan previously had been reviewed by the Lawrence County and township planning commissioners. The supervisors had final approval.

The residents of the neighborhood behind the proposed business previous to the Feb. 28 meeting had filed a petition with 52 signatures, protesting the plans, which call for an 11,250-square-foot retail and rental store at the corner of Wilmington Road and Fruitland Drive. About 20 residents who attended that meeting objected to the hardware store proposal.

That petition was to ask the township to consider changing the proposed entrance to Wilmington Road. The entrance as proposed would give access from Fruitland Drive. Their protest was to prevent tractor-trailer deliveries from traveling onto Fruitland Drive, causing potential traffic congestion and changing the character of the neighborhood.

Craig, a North Mercer Street Extension resident, attended as a spokesman for the neighbors. His objections publicly to the plans as they apply to the zoning ordinance are similar to those spelled out in the appeal.

He said after that meeting the residents intended to appeal the decision to "all channels provided through the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code."

The Lawrence County Planning Commission reviewed the store's land development plan in December. The property is a 1.7-acre lot in a C-2 Highway Commercial zone. The county planning review noted that the business is a permitted use in that area.

The plan was proposed by landowners Gale E. and Geoffrey Measel under Measel-Bruce Limited Partnership. The store would be the third T&M Hardware in Lawrence County. Other company stores are in Shenango Township and Ellwood City.