Walmart opponents fell short of the 1,679 signatures they needed to seek a repeal of Westerville City Council's decision to allow the redevelopment of Westerville Square.

Walmart opponents fell short of the 1,679 signatures they needed to seek a repeal of Westerville City Council's decision to allow the redevelopment of Westerville Square.

The Franklin County Board of Elections announced Aug. 23 that the group working against the redevelopment, which is to include the demolition of three storefronts in the center to make way for a 108,00-square-foot Walmart, fell 36 signatures short of the 1,679 signatures needed to put a referendum on the ballot.

Opponents of the redevelopment handed in petitions with 2,327 signatures in an attempt to place a referendum before voters to reverse the July 5 council vote allowing the redevelopment.

"We've looked at them and reviewed the petitions and found them to be 36 signatures short of the margin they need for a valid referendum," Franklin County Board of Elections spokesman Ben Piscitelli said.

He said the reasons for rejecting some of the signatures were run-of-the-mill. For example, 125 signatures reviewed by Franklin County were from people with Westerville mailing addresses who live in Blendon Township rather than within the city's corporate limits.

"They always have some signatures that aren't valid," Piscitelli said of petition drives.

Piscitelli said there is no process with the board of elections that will allow for an appeal of the decision.

Organizers of the petition drive did not return phone calls Aug. 23, but posted on their Facebook page that their attorneys were reviewing the petitions.

George Hadler, president of Westerville Square owner The Hadler Cos., said he was excited by the news, which will allow his company to move forward with the redevelopment. The plans were on hold because of the referendum attempt.

"I had reason to believe it was going to be close, and I certainly hoped it was going to err in our favor," Hadler said. "It's actually wonderful news because I've got jobs and this is a shovel-ready project. It's taken a long time to put together."

Hadler had vowed to fight a referendum attempt in court, maintaining that the decision by council was an administrative decision and thus not eligible for a referendum vote. He said he's happy to avoid the legal battle.

"We were very confident of our legal battle that even if they got the signatures, that it would be able to be overturned in the courts," Hadler said. "I never wanted to fight with anyone. All I want to do is replace my anchor tenant and reinvest in the community."

Hadler said his company will have to coordinate with Walmart to see when ground can be broken on the project, but with no referendum or court case pending, construction likely will begin soon.

"I believe they are of the same mindset we are: That is, let's get this done as quickly as we can," he said. "We're anxious to roll up our sleeves."

The Hadler Cos. initially planned to have the Walmart ready to open in late summer or early fall 2012, and if construction moves forward quickly, the company still should be able to meet that goal, Hadler said.

jnesbitt@thisweeknews.com

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