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AMENDMENT COULD DERAIL REZONING FOR STRIP MALL

A change added just minutes before the final approval of Lancaster's "big box" strip mall may have provided opponents with a new way to stall the controversial project.

Authored by outgoing Councilman Neil Connelly, the amendment granted the needed rezoning for the project at Transit Road and William Street, but said the land would revert to its current residential zoning if a site plan wasn't approved within a year.

Now critics hope the Town Board, which gets two new members Jan. 1, will fail to meet that deadline, thus undoing the rezoning.

Both of the new board members, Georgette Pelletterie and Rick Zarbo, are critics of the nearly 300,000-square-foot mall being built by Joe Cipolla, one of the area's most politically influential developers.

"If there is a way for (the rezoned land) to revert back, obviously I'm for it," Pelletterie said.

Zarbo agreed. "It is possible that it will be delayed a year," he said. "There are definitely enough things that need to be changed. But it's up to Cipolla and the people who live there. If Joe can't find a way to please them, it's not going to happen."

Council member Donna Stempniak is also a critic. She cast the lone dissenting vote against the rezoning Dec. 20.

A group of adjacent town-home owners has been fighting the rezoning, saying the project is too big and will turn the wooded land behind them into parking and loading zones.

Town Clerk Robert Thill said delaying the site plan's approval could occur legally if the new board wanted changes. Town law requires the board to "proceed expeditiously" on projects but the board can also "keep asking for more" from the site plan, such a bigger buffer or changes that will make the strip mall less of a hardship for neighbors, he said.

"It can ask for a better mousetrap," Thill said of the Town Board.

Another possible hurdle will be the lawsuit that Citizens Against Retail Sprawl -- founded by the adjacent town-home owners -- are planning to file.

George Ciancio, who heads the group, said he expects the suit to be filed early in the new year.

"I think this thing could be easily delayed," he said of the project.

Cipolla, however, said he believes the board won't have cause to ask for extras from his site plan, and he hopes he can avoid more delays. He wants to meet with Ciancio's group as well as the new board members to work out differences, he said.

"My hope is cooler heads will prevail," Cipolla said.

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