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By Al Lowe
Associated Press 

Discussions begin on how transportation money can fund growth

 

October 30, 2007



State Rep. Chelsa Wagner brought key stakeholders to the table last Wednesday at a meeting to discuss possible development plans for South Hills Junction.

"We want to make South Hills Junction safer and more accessible. There's an opportunity to benefit from state funding available," Ms. Wagner said at a meeting held at Warrington Recreation Center and attended by 20 community leaders.

Among those in attendance were: City Councilman Jeff Koch, representatives of council candidate Bruce Kraus, members of Allentown, Mount Washington and Beltzhoover community groups, planners for improvements to the former South Hills High School, Urban Redevelopment Authority staffer Thomas Cummings and Daniel DeBone, senior government affairs representative at the Port Authority.

An active participant in the discussion was R. Lynn Colosi, senior vice president, Clear View Strategies, in Pittsburgh. Her company is a consultant involved in similar transit planning in Rochester, Pa ., which received a $75,000 state grant in 2006 to develop a master plan for transit related development. Planning for both South Hills Junction and Rochester would involve making suggestions on upgrading the appearance and the commercial development of the nearby areas.

Ms. Wagner said her office heard complaints about stairs in disrepair and the poor appearance and image of the South Hills Junction.

Ms. Colosi said the development strategy should be tied in with a major development event, such as the plans to convert the former South Hills High School into a complex with 84 senior apartments and 25 loft apartments.

"If no development is occurring, we've got a problem," she said.

In response to questions from Mr. Koch, participants learned from the backers of the high school renovation project that a request for tax credits was rejected but will be resubmitted. The school district which owns the building made some roof repairs.

South Hills High School "is a big white elephant. The school district would love to get rid of it," Mr. Koch said.

Participants decided that county and school board representatives should be invited to the next meeting. Those two legislative bodies and the city would have to pass legislation favoring transit planning before any plans are developed, Ms. Colosi said. "Like tax increment financing, we need cooperation going in (to a planning process)," Ms. Colosi said.

Breen Masciotra, an assistant to Ms. Wagner, distributed handouts explaining transit revitalization investment district (TRID) planning. "The purpose of these districts is to spur transit-oriented development, community revitalization and enhanced community character around public transit facilities in communities across the Commonwealth. In addition TRIDS allow for the establishment of ‘value capture' areas in which additional tax revenues generated within the TRID may be applied to public transportation capital improvements, related site development improvements and maintenance. The Department of Community and Economic Development…is providing and administering funding for TRID planning studies," the handout said.

"One of the positive things about having this group get together is having cooperation," Ms. Wagner said. Future meetings are planned.

She said the South Hills is often overlooked for funding opportunities. "We're not doing great. But we're not doing so poorly we attract target programs."

 

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