A ruling favoring Dollar General’s position that Mayor Anthony Mastrangelo overstepped his authority by vetoing city council’s action that would have allowed the store was issued on Wednesday.
Lawrence County Court of Common Pleas Judge John W. Hodge ruled in favor of Texas-based PennTex Ventures LLC, who proposed building a Dollar General store at 1102 Highland Ave. and property owners William S. and Debra A. Kosciuszko.
Attorney James Manolis, representing PennTex Ventures, said the court had been asked to decide a legal issue regarding the mayor’s authority.
“We filed a declaratory judgment action, saying everyone has said all they need to say and there is no need to go to trial. The court found that no, the mayor did not have the right to issue a veto,” Manolis said.
On April 20, 2018, PennTex Ventures asked council to amend the city zoning ordinance to include a Neighborhood Improvement Overlay District on the city’s North Hill and applied for a conditional use request to operate a retail business, a Dollar General store, within the proposed district. On June 28, 2018, council voted 3-2 in favor or the of the change. On June 29, 2018, Mastrangelo vetoed the measure, claiming authority under the Optional Third Class City Charter Law.
PennTex Ventures appealed. On three occasions, the court sided with the developer.
In the his ruling, Hodge, noted “this remains an issue of first impression in this Commonwealth” and said “it is the belief of the court that the Municipal Planning Code trumps the Optional Third Class City Charter Charter Law in this circumstance.”
The planning code, he said, “vests the power to enact zoning legislation solely in the governing body — city council — and explicitly excludes the mayor.”
The mayor had contended he had the authority to veto “because under the Charter Law he is endowed with the power to veto any ordinance adopted by council within 10 days of its passage.”
Hodge, however, pointed out that with the exception of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, all Pennsylvania municipalities are subject to the Municipal Planning Code and ruled that mayors, regardless of their authority or right to participate when decisions are made in other police realms, “are to have no involvement whatsoever when the city council takes up zoning legislation.”
Council had not attempted to override the veto and the amendment’s status has remained in doubt, according to the suit.
The ruling declared the zoning amendment to be enacted and made part of the city’s zoning ordinance retroactive to June 28, 2018.
The order added that all future attempts to enact, amend or repeal provisions of the zoning code shall require only a majority vote of council to become law, and neither the mayor’s veto nor signature of approval is permitted.
“I believe Judge Hodge’s ruling is supported by the facts of the case,” Manolis said, “and the ruling on the case will go the same way.”
The Kosciuszkos were added to the case in June.
Efforts to reach attorneys William Flannery, representing Mastrangelo, and Ryan Long, representing the city, were not successful.