HERMITAGE Panel rejects freeway rezoning

A spokesman for Heritage development said the company won't challenge the city's ruling.
HERMITAGE, Pa.-- There won't be any big commercial development on the south side of the Shenango Valley Freeway just west of state Route 18 -- at least not for now.
City commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to reject a request from Heritage Development Co. of Moreland Hills, Ohio, to rezone 14.6 acres of office building district and single-family residential land to central commercial.
Heritage doesn't own the land but has an option to buy it and wanted to make it part of a larger 28-acre site to attract a department store like a Super Wal-Mart or similar chain store.
More than 50 people crowded into the meeting room to hear the board's final decision on the matter.
Opposition: When one resident asked those opposed to the rezoning to stand up, about 30 people rose from their seats.
The five commissioners might have risen as well because when it came time to vote a few minutes later, all five rejected the Heritage request, citing some of the same reasons used by residents living near the targeted site who also opposed the rezoning.
Making that land central commercial goes against the city's comprehensive zoning plan plus there many other vacant commercial buildings and sites available, said commissioner Pat White.
Commissioner Sylvia Stull pointed out that a recent Route 18 South Corridor study recommended that the land remain as an office building district.
A major commercial development at that location would infringe on the safety and welfare of the people who live in the neighborhood, she added.
Opposite view: Brian Grassa, Heritage project manager, attempted to persuade the commissioners to accept the change, pointing out his company tried to work with affected residents to ease their concerns.
The company wouldn't construct any access route off Morefield Road and would build a 180-foot buffer along Morefield Road to shield residents from the development, he said. The vacant land now pays about $5,000 a year in property taxes but could generate more than $300,000 a year within two years with a commercial development, he said.
His company was unable to promise deed restrictions that would keep the buffer zone in place even if the site were later sold.
Atty. John Reed, representing the Kilgore and Lambros families who own part of the targeted area, also asked for a favorable vote on the rezoning.
He said the only other available commercial space that could house a major development is on Route 18 north of the YMCA.
A large commercial project at that location would cause serious traffic problems, he said, suggesting that the land targeted by Heritage would be a much better location because it would have access off both Route 18 and the Shenango Valley Freeway.
This wasn't the first time developers have tried to get that land rezoned for commercial use. City commissioners rejected earlier proposals in 1995 and 1999 and commissioner Larry Gurrera predicted the matter will come up again.
Grassa said after the meeting that Heritage will abide by the commissioners' ruling and won't seek to challenge it in court.
Another option: There are still 16 acres of commercial property that were to become part of the 28-acre package, and Heritage may exercise its option to buy them and build a smaller-scale commercial development, he said.
Grassa added there also is nothing to prevent Heritage from returning with another rezoning proposal on the same land.

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