There’s a term being used in Washington these days that refers to commercial efforts at creating the appearance of a grassroots movement when, in fact, it’s synthetic: Astroturf. Here in Cranberry, during the past few weeks, someone who apparently doesn’t like competition in the grocery business paid a firm called “SprawlBusters” to generate opposition to Shop ‘n Save’s application for a grocery store in Freedom Square. They did it using robocalls which were followed up with live calls – in each case claiming that the supermarket was unnecessary, that it was going to create traffic gridlock, and that it was getting a free ride from the Township by not paying for related improvements. I assume the goal was to pressure our Board of Supervisors into rejecting the company’s land development application to build a store.
Well, it didn’t work. And the reason is that it was a totally fraudulent campaign, full of misinformation, designed to anger local residents and make it look as though the Township was playing favorites with different businesses. The calls did succeed in upsetting some people who believed their claims. But nothing about the campaign was honest. For one thing, most people believe that competition between stores is actually good for consumers, although it’s the marketplace, rather than the Township, which will make that determination. But the developer of Freedom Square certainly didn’t get a free ride. Like every business that applies to develop here, they had to pay the Township hundreds of thousands of dollars in Impact Fees for improvements to accommodate the traffic they generate. Beyond that, the developer of Freedom Square had been required to make more than $2 million in improvements including new turning lanes, traffic signals, and so on as a condition of building there in the first place.
Cranberry Township approaches development differently than most. Our Board believes that development should pay for as much its own impact as the law allows, upfront. Many other communities end up ‘giving away the store’ to secure development. In fact, one of the most frequent comments we get from developers is how extensively we require them to mitigate the impact of their proposed development. They have a point. And Shop ‘n Save may be one of the best examples. But to say that they’re getting a free ride is ridiculous. It’s crabgrass.