Dollar General may be coming to Highland Avenue

Artist rendering of proposed Highland Avenue Dollar General store

Mayor Anthony Mastrangelo said he is disappointed in the ruling that might open the door for Dollar General to build a store on Highland Avenue.

“I’ll talk to my attorney,” the mayor said yesterday morning.

His comments came the day after Lawrence County common pleas Judge John W. Hodge overruled Mastrangelo’s objections to PennTex Ventures LLC to amend the city’s zoning map and ordinance. The change would create a Neighborhood Improvement Overlay District along Highland Avenue. Dollar General made the request in order to construct a retail store at 1102 Highland Ave., the site of the former Leyde-Tanner-Reynolds Funeral Home.

The Texas-based company, which has an office in Pittsburgh, also asked for a conditional use to operate a store in the residential district.

On June 28, the overlay was approved by city council by a 3-2 vote. Mastrangelo, a resident in the neighborhood where Dollar General proposes to locate, had voiced his personal objection to the plan in public meetings and vetoed council’s approval the day after the vote.

Council did not attempt to override the mayor’s veto and the petition was “presumptively defeated.” Council took no action on the conditional use request.

However, in July 2018 attorney James Manolis, representing PennTex, filed suit claiming the mayor overstepped his authority and has no legal right to veto a zoning amendment and that only the governing body — city council — has the authority of enacting zoning legislation.

In September, he posted a “Notice of Deemed Approval of Conditional Use Request” on the Highland Avenue property. He contended since council had not acted to deny the request within 45 days it was deemed to be approved.

Mastrangelo argued that a declaratory judgement should not have been used to resolve the dispute, contended his veto was lawful, challenged the court’s jurisdiction to be involved in the matter and said PennTex lacked standing to bring the action.

Special counsel Ryan Long, representing city council, and attorney William Flannery, representing the mayor, were hired to represent city officials. In January, council withdrew from the preliminary objections but the mayor continued.

After the judge overruled the mayor in each of his arguments, Mastrangelo said he would like to continue.

“I don’t want to cost the city a lot of money, but I’m interested in appealing it,” he said.

“The city will lose out,” Mastrangelo said. “This will hurt the historic district and the North Hill. In my opinion, I don’t believe that is the place for retail stores.”

If Dollar General prevails and opens a retail store on Highland Avenue, Mastrangelo said, “This will be the start. Other retail stores will come in. I don’t object to all stores in residential neighborhoods, but that is no place for a big box store like Dollar General. I don’t want to see this happen.”

Not all officials share the mayor’s view that a store will ruin the neighborhood.

In June, councilmen Tom Smith, Tim Fulkerson and council President Bill Panella voted in favor of the commercial overlay that would enable the retail store to open in the residential neighborhood. Councilmen Paul Stefano and Richard Beshero opposed.

“As one of the council members who voted in favor of Dollar General, I hope this will allow us to proceed with the plan,” Smith said yesterday, adding that he hopes Mastrangelo will not pursue an appeal.

“If the judge had ruled in the mayor’s favor, I would not have pressed to spend tax dollars to continue,” he said. “I hope that since there is a ruling, we can meet with the developer who has spent a lot of money and legal fees on this but still wants to build. I hope that we will be able to get together on this.”

According to information presented prior to the mayor’s veto, Smith said, Dollar General presented plans to construct a top of the line building and pay an estimated $100,000 per year in tax revenue.

“There will also be building permits, construction-related fees and jobs,” he said.

Smith said he will ask what the suit has cost city taxpayers and hopes to work with the developer who is offering an aesthetically pleasing building that will blend with the neighborhood.

“It won’t be one of those boxy Dollar General stores you see in the suburbs,” he said. “I would ask that everyone continues to meet with an open mind, work with each other and reach a compromise. You know that you’ve reached a good compromise with neither side is happy with the result.”

He added that the site has been empty since the late 1980s or early 1990s and has become an eyesore.

“I don’t see an issue and wouldn’t even if it were being built in my backyard,” Smith said.

He added that traffic studies have shown that if a Dollar General is built on Highland Avenue there will be no more traffic or congestion than currently exists.

“I’d encourage the mayor to be realistic,” he said. “We can more forward to other issues that concern the city.”

Fulkerson said he voted for the Dollar General and has not changed his vote.

“I honestly believe this will be good for the city,” he said. “No one else is doing anything with that lot and they’ve offered to build a structure that will be unique to New Castle, not the regular Dollar General.”

Fulkerson said he continues to believe the addition of the retail store is positive.

I’ve not heard anyone speak against it,” he added. “This is something people want and the city needs.”

Beshero, who opposed the Dollar General said he still is against locating it on the North Hill Historic District.

“I don’t think that it should go into that or any residential neighborhood,” he said. “I said they last year, I still don’t think it should go there.”

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Nancy Lowry is a former reporter at the New Castle News, retiring Dec. 31, 2019, after many years covering government, school boards and writing feature stories.

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