Lancaster Supervisor Robert H. Giza says he plans to support a project that would use 21 acres now earmarked for homes to build a "big box" strip mall on William Street and Transit Road.
But his words of support drew immediate and angry criticism from residents who oppose the project.
Giza said the 300,000-square-foot strip mall will bring construction and other jobs, and that the shoppers who visit it will increase business to nearby restaurants, movie theaters and other businesses.
He said he knows there will be more traffic, but hopes the county, state and developer will help ease the strain on local roads.
"I'm for it right now. You can print that," Giza said.
Critics immediately branded Giza's comments as prejudicial, saying his statement means the project will not receive a fair, impartial hearing before a final vote is taken later this fall.
"He should disqualify himself from voting," said George Ciancio, head of Citizens Against Retail Sprawl, a group of people -- many of whom live adjacent to the project -- fighting the strip mall. "He is supposed to keep an open mind.
The anti-sprawl group is also leading opposition to Giza's re-election in November.
Giza, however, said he has not made up his mind and said he would not remove himself from the final vote. He said he expressed his opinion so far in advance so that the public wouldn't be "blindsided" when he finally casts a vote.
"If someone shows me something I haven't seen before, I can be swayed. I can go the other way," he said. "But I don't want people to think I'm putting this thing off until after the election. I wouldn't do that."
The proposed strip mall has generated plenty of controversy in Lancaster. Opponents are particularly nervous because the developer is Joe Cipolla, a political power in Lancaster-Depew politics. The project is now in the midst of an environmental impact review.
A final vote is due after a public hearing, probably this fall.
An attorney for the anti-sprawl group said Giza's comments might also make Lancaster more vulnerable if the matter ends up in court.
Attorney David J. Seeger said decisions elsewhere involving similar issues have been overturned by the courts because officials "expressed favoritism before all the evidence was in."
By itself, the issue probably would not be enough to sway a court, Seeger said. But it could be used to lend weight to other issues in a lawsuit, he said.