Judge Joseph M. James of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas this week affirmed the decision by Mt. Lebanon's zoning hearing board to deny two variances for the school district's planned $113.2 million high school renovation.
Zoning ordinances required that the high school, located on Cochran Road, have maximum lot coverage of 50 percent and 528 parking spaces. The high school currently has lot coverage of 54.57 percent and 502 parking spaces.
The district proposed a renovation plan that would drop lot coverage to 54.43 percent and increase the number of parking spaces to 505. The district had argued that the renovation would make the high school less non-conforming than the current school, which was built before the adoption of the relevant zoning requirements.
"Even though the resulting nonconformity of the project will be less than the current nonconformity, it still violates the ordinance," Judge James wrote in his seven-page decision. "Therefore, the board correctly determined that variances were required for the proposed lot coverage and parking nonconformities."
Last month, Mt. Lebanon's five-member municipal planning board unanimously passed a motion to give the school district conditional preliminary land development approval for the high school.
Among the conditions of the approval is that the school district obtain a favorable resolution from the Allegheny County court.
At the planning board meeting, the school district said the addition of a more permeable surface would make the lot coverage 49.79 percent, a drop from the 54.43 percent in the previous plans.
The Mt. Lebanon School District filed a court appeal in April, after the three-member zoning hearing board issued an eight-page decision denying the variances. The zoning hearing board wrote that it believed the district could have complied with zoning requirements but for its "overreaching," specifically singling out the athletic field house planned on Horsman Drive across from the main academic building.
The high school renovation project has been under discussion for years and has been a topic of discussion at dozens of school board meetings. The cost of the project has been a contentious issue in the community, with nine Mt. Lebanon residents, including two former school board members, filing a petition to intervene in the case in support of the zoning hearing board decision.
Last fall, the board issued $69 million in bonds to pay for the project, with a second bond issue planned for the future.
The 2010-11 school district budget included a 10.5 percent property tax increase to cover the high school project cost, pension responsibilities and the base budget.
School board president Ed Kubit said he was disappointed by the decision.
"I was hoping that the case we made was reasonable," he said.
Kaitlynn Riely: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1707