Citizens group opposes development in Upper St. Clair
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Details of a controversial plan to rezone the former corporate headquarters of Consol Energy in Upper St. Clair are expected to be discussed tonight at a meeting of the township planning commission.
About two dozen members of the USC First citizens group are encouraging residents to turn out for the 7:30 p.m. meeting, where the developer, 1800 Washington Road Associates, is expected to discuss plans for the 29-acre site, which could include big-box retailers and residential units.
Consol sold the parcel, including its 186,000-square-foot, three-story office building at the corner of Route 19 and Fort Couch Road, in 2005 to developer Corvus Pittsburgh Interests for $13 million. Several years later, the coal giant moved its corporate headquarters to Southpointe II in Cecil, Washington County.
Earlier this year, 1800 Washington Road Associates came before the seven-member planning commission and asked that the parcel's current zoning designation as a special business district be amended to include mixed-use residential and retail development.
A special business district can include offices, banking and light retail, such as a pharmacy, located within an office building.
Township director of community development Scott Brilhart said the developer presented the planning commission with a conceptual sketch that included multi-family condominiums and retail units.
Members of USC First are concerned that at least one big-box retailer and grocery chain are negotiating with the developer, said spokesman Randy Shaffer.
In a meeting with community members earlier this month, representatives from the development team said that a Best Buy, currently located less than a mile away in Bethel Park, is a potential tenant, Mr. Shaffer said.
Calls to the developer's office this week were not returned.
Across the street from the former Consol property, at South Hills Village, plans are under way for a Target and Dick's Sporting Goods to open next year at the site of a former Boscov's department store.
Mr. Shaffer said the citizen's group is most concerned about development, traffic and safety, along with maintaining some green space along the Route 19 corridor.
"There are just so many issues and we haven't had time to research them" before tonight's meeting, Mr. Shaffer said.
The group recently enlisted the help of Sprawl-Busters, founded by citizen activist-turned development expert Al Norman, who garnered national attention when he successfully halted plans for a Walmart in his hometown of Greenfield, Mass.
Mr. Norman said he provided assistance to USC First through phone polling and issue analysis. The results are expected to be unveiled by the citizen's group tonight.
"What I try to do is provide local residents with technical assistance to level the playing field with developers," said Mr. Norman, who said development-driven zoning laws in the U.S. are rarely challenged by inexperienced municipal boards or citizen groups.
"It's a mistake to just rely on the developer to provide information," he said.
Mr. Brilhart said if the planning commission recommends approval of the zoning amendment tonight, the decision would be forwarded to township commissioners for two public hearings and a final vote.
After that, he said, the developer would be required to submit a land development plan, detailing building design and layout, and a traffic impact study.
Though there are still considerable hurdles for the developer to clear, Mr. Shaffer said his group is concerned that once the zoning amendment is approved, it will be too late to turn back.
"If we don't stop it now, there will be no stopping it," he said.
The meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at the township municipal building, at 1820 McLaughlin Run Road.
First Published April 21, 2011 5:43 am