S. Strabane supervisors accused of ‘de facto taking’ of property

The Allegheny County owners and would-be developers of 152 acres in the area of Tanger Outlets have gone to court seeking compensation from South Strabane Township.

An aerial view of Tanger Outlets and surrounding property Photo:Observer-Reporter

The owners of a section of undeveloped land near Tanger Outlets is accusing South Strabane Township of executing a “de facto condemnation” of the 152-acre site by refusing to accept the adjacent Tanger Boulevard as a public street.

Racetrack Road Development LP, Mulach Steel Corp. and Shelby Corp. – which collectively do business as Chapman Properties – filed a petition Wednesday in Washington County Court. The companies are asking a judge to appoint a board of viewers to determine compensation for losses the Leetsdale, Allegheny County-based developers believe should be awarded in compensation under eminent domain law.

The petition asserts the supervisors’ decision last year not to take over Tanger Boulevard and the proposed Southport Road as township roads has blocked development plans there, causing plastics manufacturer Ensinger Inc. to back out of a deal in which it would have relocated to land on part of the site. Supervisors rendered that decision in September 2016. At that same meeting, they also rejected a conditional-use application by Racetrack Road Development and Mulach Steel to build a light manufacturing and office facility on a 31-acre tract that would have become Ensinger’s North American headquarters, and a “master plan” for the whole 152 acres that involved subdividing its two parcels into nine.

Supervisors voted to rescind their decision on the conditional-use application the following month but left the other decision in place.

Ensinger, which remains in North Strabane, terminated its agreement with Chapman in March because “the Ensinger use could not exist without the access contemplated from Tanger Boulevard,” according to the petition.

“The Ensinger development was legally and physically feasible, as reflected in the township’s conditional-use approval of the project,” attorney Clifford B. Levine wrote in the Chapman companies’ petition. “However, the project could not proceed without the township’s acceptance of Tanger Boulevard as a public street, and Ensinger terminated its agreement with Chapman Properties.”

Levine added the companies “have sustained losses in excess of $10 million as a direct consequence of the township’s actions and non-actions that prevent reasonable development” of the whole 152-acre site.

The petition also lists “exceptional circumstances that result in the township’s de facto taking of the subject property.” Those include “the township’s failure to accept dedication of Tanger Boulevard, despite its approval of the recorded Tanger Plan that identified Tanger Boulevard as ‘Public’; the construction of Tanger Boulevard to the township’s standards; and the disbursement of public (tax increment financing) funds for the purpose of constructing Tanger Boulevard as a public road.”

A land-use appeal the Chapman companies filed Oct. 19, 2016 – which asks a judge to reverse supervisors’ decision to deny the master plan and direct them to accept Tanger Boulevard as a public street – is pending in Washington County Court.

Township solicitor Dennis Makel declined to comment on “pending litigation.”