Collier denies variance request for town home plan

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Collier's Zoning Hearing Board on Tuesday turned down a variance request to build a $4 million cluster town house development on Rennerdale Elementary School site on Noblestown Road.

After listening to the developer, Starship Development Co. Inc, and Rennerdale residents for more than an hour, the four-member commission unanimously denied the request because it was not justified by unique circumstances and because the proposed building plan would alter the area's family-oriented lifestyle.

"The zoning hearing board is basically the conscience of Collier Township," said member Tim Downey Jr. after the planners took a short recess to confer.

A variance for the proposed development was approved in 2001, but it expired in 2005. Starship could not carry out the plan during that time because of a nationwide financial decline, company spokesman Tim Frew said.

According to the Allegheny County Assessment website, brothers Jack and Jim Cargnoni have owned the five-acre vacant parcel since 1998. It previously belonged to the Chartiers Valley School District.

Starship Development needs the variance to comply with the area's zoning. The company proposes town homes with garages at the front like those in Prestley Glen, which is one of the Villages of Neville Park. Trees would be planted and green space on the site would be maintained and kept intact, Mr. Frew said. The 20 proposed town homes, ranging from 1,536 to 2,289 square feet in frontage, would start at $200,000 and would add $11,000 in taxes annually to Collier's budget.

Jack Cargnoni, who arrived about 20 minutes late for the hearing, pointed out that Collier changed the ordinance to single-family homes in July 2002. Building single-family homes on the site would not bring in as much tax revenue, he said.

About 50 residents, largely from the Rennerdale area, turned out to register their objections to Starship's plan. Many cited legal cases to back up their views.

"I lived through the demolition of the school," said Ronnie Vercammen of Noblestown Road. "If it's zoned R-2, it was changed for a reason — to stop this."

Tom Chidlow of Highlandview Avenue said Rennerdale is considered the residential core of Collier.

"This is not what Rennerdale intends to be," he continued. "We don't see where the hardship is."

Lifelong Collier resident Kim Steel of Sunnyside Avenue thought Starship's first proposed development wasn't done "because it didn't meet the financial standards of what the developer wanted to make."

She said the current residents are the ones who would be impacted by the town homes.

"What will be the cost to the people? We're the ones who live there," she stated to applause from the audience.

Others stressed that the property should be developed in compliance with the ordinance.

"Any variance approved now toallow town homes would set a precedent," Shanna Mara of Sunset Place said, adding she has a petition signed by 70 residents who oppose the proposed development.

Carole Gilbert Brown, freelance writer:

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