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January 17, 2014

CVS dealt setback

JOHNSTOWN — A proposed commercial development of the former Stutzman School property has been dealt another setback.

Westmont Borough Zoning Hearing Board denied CVS Pharmacy’s challenge of the zoning ordinance’s validity, The Tribune-Democrat has learned.

CVS and its experts failed to show that the borough zoning ordinance does not sufficiently allow for commercial development, the board said in the eight-page decision prepared by attorney David R. Lovette.

Developer R. Michael Boland of RMB Realty in Somerset said CVS and its team are “disappointed” and plan to appeal.

“The borough is spending a lot of money to defend this,” Boland said. “I’m not sure they expect to win, but they are in a position where they have to fight it to support the zoning hearing board.”

Boland wondered aloud if the community at large opposes the commercial project.

Mayor Robert Callahan echoed those thoughts.

“Controlled development is something we need,” Callahan said. “The zoning hearing board, I don’t think is representing a majority of the citizens. I think it’s a vocal minority.”

Council President Don Hall II said he was not surprised at the decision, but that he would like to see development at the Stutzman site.

This week’s ruling is based on two hours of testimony during a Dec. 23 hearing in the Westmont Municipal Building.

Expert witnesses Andrew “A.J.” Schwartz of Pittsburgh-based Environmental Planning & Design and Michael Muldry of Pittsburgh-based Traffic Planning and Design Inc. presented CVS’ case. They argued that the borough’s 3.5-acre commercial zone along Millcreek Road at Bucknell Avenue was not big enough to allow for today’s businesses.

Zoning laws are based on a community’s comprehensive plan, which should identify areas for future growth in all aspects of community needs, Schwartz said, noting that Westmont’s comprehensive plan had not been updated since 1980.

“Zoning ordinance is the legal document to implement the comprehensive plan,” Schwartz said at the December hearing. “What you are doing in the zoning ordinance should be complementary to the comprehensive plan.”

But court rulings allow communities to take into account the percentage of undeveloped land available and if the community is a “logical area for development and population growth,” the board’s ruling notes.

“The board finds that the applicant (CVS) did not present any testimony concerning the (state) Supreme Court factors listed above, and as a result, they have not met their burden that would entitle them to have a valid challenge to the validity of the Westmont Borough zoning ordinance,” the ruling concluded.

Randy Griffith covers Westmont for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/photogriffer57.

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