Monroeville council votes against tree harvesting
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Monroeville council Tuesday night denied the application of a homeowners' association to harvest timber on a 30-acre conservancy between a residential area and the Pennsylvania Turnpike, citing concerns about potential landslides if trees were removed.
Mayor Greg Erosenko, who signed a petition opposing the logging in May, approached Robert Davis, president of the Point Circle Association, the group of homeowners who own the land, after the vote and said the municipality would be held responsible in the event of a landslide but said the association could take the matter to court, which Mr. Davis said he will consider.
When asked which party, if any, would benefit financially from the logging, Mr. Davis responded that it's "none of anyone's business."
Nearly 100 residents had packed council chambers, and people on either side of the debate presented arguments to council as to why -- or why not -- the trees should be felled.
Mr. Davis told council that about 450 trees were harvested from the 29.5-acre plot of land in 1997 with council's blessing and noted that forestry occurs all over Pennsylvania, even in areas deemed landslide-prone.
He said removing large trees from the uneven-aged forest will open the canopy and allow smaller trees to grow, adding that only about 4 percent of the wooded area, or about 300 trees, would be cut down.
Some trees would be cut down within the 25-foot "buffer zone" around the properties, Mr. Davis said, because some homeowners are concerned about large trees falling and damaging their homes.
The association hired a forestry consultant to survey the site to ensure best management practices would be followed throughout the tree removal process, Mr. Davis said.
Councilman Steve Duncan noted that residents have a right to remove large trees on their property; council only has a say over timbering on the land zoned as a conservancy.
Residents who opposed the removal of trees said they were worried about noise and fumes from the turnpike seeping into the neighborhood, the potential for landslides and flooding, and the safety of children with logging trucks moving in and out of the area.
John Pietrone, a resident of Bert Drive, said he polled residents of the area known as Turnpike Gardens and found 351 were opposed to the tree removal, while only 11 were in favor of removing the trees.
"You have a solemn responsibility to preserve and protect our community," he said. "Monroeville is more than just malls and businesses and competing health care giants.
"Do the right thing here," he said. "Let's cut down the plan to cut down the trees."
Paul Hugus, the municipality's director of engineering, said he did not recommend council approve the application because timber-harvesting operations should not be conducted on landslide-prone areas.
Joseph Boward, a geotechnical engineer, told council that at least 60 percent of the site is landslide-prone. Mr. Hugus said the landslide-prone soils weren't addressed when council OK'd the trees to be cut down on the land in 1997.
Councilwoman Lois Drumheller said she looked into why the logging was allowed 15 years ago and found that no waiver was obtained, though one was required. She said she has no idea how the council at the time missed the ordinance that says timbering and logging should not occur on a 25 percent slope or on landslide- or flood-prone areas, but the logging "never should have been done 15 years ago."
After hours of discussion, council voted unanimously to deny the application and briefly recessed.
Also, council approved a resolution that will allow Monroeville Finance Authority to consider issuing tax-exempt revenue bonds "not expected to exceed" $420 million to UPMC.
Sara Davis Buss, an attorney representing UPMC, said $210 million will go to refinance currently outstanding debt at a lower interest rate and another $210 million will go toward "new capital projects" in Pittsburgh and Monroeville, which are projects at facilities that already exist, including the newly opened UPMC East hospital.
Council approved the resolution 5-2, with Ms. Drumheller and Councilwoman Diane Allison dissenting. Ms. Allison said the bond issues still need to be approved by the Monroeville Finance Authority and said she wants to respect the autonomy of the newly formed authority.
"I want our MFA to start with a strong foundation so they can be successful," she said.
Council also OK'd a new location for a Monroeville police satellite station at Monroeville Mall. Police Chief Doug Cole said the new station will be centrally located near the JCPenney store -- which will soon become a movie theater -- and is better suited to the department's needs. Council approved the new location 6-1, with Ms. Allison dissenting.
Council welcomed its new manager, Jeffrey Silva, who took over the post Wednesday, relieving interim manager Lynnette McKinney. Mr. Silva was most recently the director of the Somerset County Economic Development Council.
First Published July 12, 2012 12:00 am