Greenbelt Association Sues To Stop McDonald's

Says Swatara Twp. was wrong to approve plans for fast-food restaurant

by John Luciew

Patriot News; 5th October 1996; USA

Press Index

As expected, the Capital Area Greenbelt Association has filed legal action to try and stop the construction of a McDonald's restaurant on a portion of the nature trail.

Unexpectedly, however, the Greenbelt suit is aimed at Swatara Twp., which approved the restaurants plans - not Dauphin County, which owns the land and is selling it to McDonald's

The suit, filed in Dauphin County Court on Thursday, seeks to overturn a Sept 4 decision by the Swatara Twp. Commissioners in which they approved subdivision and land development for the McDonald's, to be built at 3100 Paxton St.

Over the objections of more than a dozen opponents, the commissioners voted 7 - 1 to approve the project.

The lawsuit contends that the township commissioners went against township zoning provisions requiring them to preserve, wherever possible, natural areas of green space.

"The plan extinguishes a part of the Capital Area Greenbelt, which is public resource protected by the public trust doctrine," the suit said.

The Greenbelt is a 20-mile network of biking and walking trails surrounding Harrisburg.

However, an attorney for Swatara Twp. said yesterday that the commissioners had virtually no choice, as McDonald's plan met all zoning requirements.

"The township had to follow the law," said attorney Charles Zaleski, Swatara's special counsel on the Greenbelt case. "My recommendation was that the plans met the ordinance. That was the commissioners decision, and I think the courts will uphold that decision."

Zaleski said the Greenbelt fight is with Dauphin County, which pressed ahead with McDonald's deal despite months of Greenbelt Association protests and public objections.

"I'm disappointed they filed the appeal," he said. "The problem was not with the township. The problem is with the county."

It's unclear whether the suit will delay the completion of Dauphin County's land deal with McDonald's. The sales agreement made the deal contingent on the receipt of all state and local approvals for construction. The deed transfer has yet to take place. McDonald's had wanted to begin construction this fall.

Under the deal, McDonald's is paying $247,000 for the 1.35 acre tract. However, the county may pocket as little as $125,000. Up to 40% of the money may go to Harrisburg under a deed clause inserted when the city transferred the tract to the county for $1 in 1990.

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