HERMITAGE Developer, residents spar over center plan

One area resident who first supported the rezoning has now changed her mind.
HERMITAGE, Pa. -- Rezoning 14.6 acres along the Shenango Valley Freeway could mean the difference between $5,400 and $300,000 a year in real estate taxes, city commissioners were told.
The lower number is the amount of taxes that parcel and an adjoining 11 acres of vacant land just west of state Route 18 on the south side of the freeway are now paying to the city, said Brian Grassa of Heritage Development Co. of Moreland Hills, Ohio.
The higher figure is what taxes could be produced with a commercial development on the site, he said Tuesday during a public hearing on the rezoning issue.
Heritage wants the 14.6 acres of office building district changed to central commercial to create a 26-acre development parcel, but Grassa said the company has no specific plans for the site.
Heritage has talked to a number of retailers and grocers and there is interest but no tenants have been signed, he said.
The office building district land has been vacant for years and no one has wanted to build there, Grassa said, arguing that commercial development would be the best logical use of the property which sits adjacent to the city's central commercial district.
Land owner: One resident who would be affected by a zoning change is Dorothy Kilgore of Morefield Road who said her family owns some of the land in question and favors the rezoning.
No one has wanted to buy the land as office building property and, if the city refuses to rezone it for commercial use, the city should come up with a program to secure government grants to help develop it as an office building district, Kilgore told the commissioners.
Opposition: Others at the hearing opposed Heritage's request, including Robert Glimcher of Pittsburgh, president of The Glimcher Group which owns the Lowe's store and the mostly vacant Hermitage Hills Plaza directly across the freeway from the site.
There is already sufficient vacant commercial property, some vacant and some buildings in need of redevelopment, in the city, Glimcher said.
Heritage's plan doesn't fit the city's own comprehensive zoning plan which set aside the office building district, nor a later review of zoning along Route 18 which suggested that designation not be changed, he added.
Atty. George Kontos of Pittsburgh, representing Michael and Laurie Joanow of Woodhill Drive argued that the rezoning would be bad for the neighboring residents and bad for the community as a whole.
Two previous efforts by other developers to get this parcel rezoned for commercial use also failed, he reminded commissioners.
Suggestion: Harry Sheppard of Dogwood Lane also opposes the rezoning and went one step further, suggesting the commissioners enact legislation refusing to consider future requests to rezone the property for a number of years or unless all other commercial land is used up.
One resident of the area who initially supported the rezoning changed her opinion.
Gina Ehrhart of Koonce Road, who spoke via videotape as she was unable to attend the hearing, said she has learned that deed restrictions promised by Heritage to ensure that a buffer zone around the proposed site would never be developed cannot be enforced by law.
Further, she pointed out the city's planning commission has determined there are 240 acres of available commercial land and more isn't needed. Commissioners will vote on the issue Dec. 19.

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