Supervisors take no action on Robert Morris plans to turn hotel into dorm

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Robert Morris University's plans to convert the Holiday Inn Pittsburgh Airport hotel on University Boulevard into a dormitory have been delayed.

Moon supervisors convened until the wee hours of July 2 to consider their request but adjourned and decided to take up the matter again at 7 p.m. July 22 in the municipal building, 1000 Beaver Grade Road.

Two actions are necessary to enable the hotel conversion.

Supervisors must create a Mixed Use Overlay District to accommodate the university's plans to operate Yorktown Hall, a dormitory in the middle of the township's commercial business district. The hotel is less than a mile from campus.

Once the district is created, supervisors must approve a conditional use application.

The board heard Robert Morris' presentation starting at 7 p.m. July 1, then went into executive session at 9:50 p.m. and didn't emerge until 1:05 a.m.

The facility has been operating as a hotel with students living in some of the rooms. The township considers the students to be guests of the hotel. Dorms are not a permitted zoning use for the University Boulevard Overlay District.

Only two residents brought up concerns about the project during the hearings.

Ruth Meanor, a lifelong Moon resident who owns the only house on University Boulevard, was concerned about increasing taxes once the Holiday Inn is tax exempt. She said she and her 88-year old husband, Clyde, are on a fixed income. They are also wondering what the proximity of the dormitory will do the value of their home.

Resident Paul Badzik of Rosemont Drive said his concerns were excessive noise, lights and security at the dormitory. He said someone stole gas out of his car's gas tank. Since then he has purchased a locking gas cap but he is still apprehensive about having so many students living so close to his home. He has lived in Moon for 45 years.

In 2011, the university purchased the hotel for $10.15 million at an auction. RMU officials said they had intended to operate the hotel and use only 30 percent of the rooms as dormitories for students.

They applied to Allegheny County to have the hotel be 30 percent tax exempt.

The building operated as a hotel with a restaurant, bar and conference rooms for guests, but the need for student housing increased so Robert Morris applied to Allegheny County to gain 70 percent tax exempt status with the ultimate goal of converting the entire building into a dormitory.

The university applied for permits to renovate the dormitories, but Moon refused because dormitories are not a permitted use in the University Boulevard Overlay District.

Robert Morris then applied for permits to renovate the hotel and proceeded to turn the former Yellow Submarine nightclub into a cafeteria for students.

In addition, they announced plans to close the restaurant and bar effective Wednesday.

Once the Holiday Inn becomes Yorktown Hall, there will be one full-time university staff member living with 501 Robert Morris students.

The students will be encouraged to ride shuttles rather than walking or driving to campus. The shuttles will run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Moon Police Chief Leo McCarthy said there have been six pedestrian accidents in 17 years on University Boulevard.

Supervisor Marvin Eicher said he was concerned about having so many students traveling up and down University Boulevard especially in inclement weather. He suggested a traffic study to determine how many trips would be generated.

University engineer Darren Myer of HRG Engineering in Cranberry agreed that a traffic study would be done but not until school was back in session.

The township is asking that Robert Morris install sidewalks along their property on University Boulevard.

University officials said that they were in the process of constructing or applying for them.

Moon's engineers have done the preliminary designs for sidewalk construction at the main campus entrance up to the Beaver Grade Road intersection.

education - neigh_west

Kim Lawrence, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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