Harrison Township candidates focus on business

Tom Yerace
| Thursday, May 16, 2013, 1:46 a.m.

This primary election for Harrison Township commissioners is as notable for one name that's not on the ballot as those that are.

For the first time since 1975, George Conroy is not seeking election.

Conroy has decided to call it quits after 38 years as commissioner from the 4th Ward with much of that time spent as commissioners' chairman.

“I just thought it was time,” Conroy said. “I'm not getting any younger, and the cancer thing was kind of a wake-up call.”

He had a bout with lymphoma last year for which he was successfully treated.

Three men, all Democrats, are vying to succeed Conroy in the 4th Ward: Donald Frantz,, Erik Bergstrom and William Heasley.

There also is a race in the 2nd Ward. Incumbent Gary Lilly, a retired state trooper, is being challenged for the Democratic nomination by the man he defeated four years ago, former Commissioner Mike Stanoski, a custodian for the Highlands School District.

The candidates were each asked what they saw as the major problem in their particular ward and what they would do to resolve it.

In regard to the 4th Ward, Heasley, a retired school administrator, pointed to improving recreational facilities. He said the township's only public basketball court is in Natrona (2nd Ward). He suggests building “a playground, basketball court or maybe a bike trail, something that could benefit everyone.”

He would seek state recreation grants to pay for it.

Bergstrom, a part-time police officer in Fawn and Frazer, pointed to attracting more small businesses in the 4th Ward.

“To do that you would have to beat on some doors, find out what the rents are and see what we can do to get businesses and get people back into town,” he said. “We have to do whatever we can do to bring people into town.”

Frantz, a resource coordinator for Siemen's Energy Inc., also is concerned with businesses in the 4th Ward. Since much of the ward is developed, Frantz said, “what I want to do is to take care of all the businesses that we have. Have we done enough to ensure that they will succeed or grow? … (is) the township doing enough to meet their needs?”

As for the major need in the 2nd Ward, Stanoski pointed to the lack of public transportation into Natrona. He pledged to contact the Access company “or even have a small bus from Roenigk's to come in and have the township pay for it, or go for a (state) grant.”

Lilly pointed to Natrona's housing blight. He said seven houses are to be torn down this year, with 29 more on a waiting list. That's on top of about a dozen razed in the past four years.

“I want to get these houses torn down and then get young families to build and move in,” he said. “A cleaner, better area to live in — that's what I want.”

The candidates were asked what they thought could be done to promote business development in the township as a whole.

Bergstrom said the Heights Plaza is “a big part of this community … and we need to get businesses in there.” He thinks restaurants could generate business for the other stores.

But Bergstrom also would look elsewhere for suitable property. He would support giving tax incentives “if a company wants to come in here and build … to generate some business.”

Attracting people to the township is critical to business development, Frantz said. He said the township has a county park, but Harrison Hills doesn't have a swimming pool or an attraction like the zipline that was just installed at North Park, which would attract people to the township.

“I think one of the things that holds us back in the A-K Valley is we look at the little things and we don't look at the big picture,” Frantz said. “We need to have something in our town that will make people want to come in and feel welcome and make them want to stay.

“I feel that we are stuck in a time warp,” he said. “Have we pushed all the buttons that we need to with the county? I think you get involved with the Allegheny Valley Chamber of Commerce, you have to go to the businesses and say ‘What do we need to do?' ”

Heasley said, “We have to promote ourselves. … Advertise the businesses that have moved into the area and show how they have been successful.”

He also favors tax abatement to attract new businesses.

Lilly said the township needs to create space for development and contact developers to make them aware of what Harrison has to offer.

He said zoning should be changed to commercial, particularly where there is residential housing along Freeport Road across from the Heights Plaza.

“That should be all commercial,” Lilly said. “We have to develop our main arteries. We need people in there with businesses.”

Stanoski said the township must work to develop the land along the Allegheny River for business, work with the chamber on development programs and promote the township.

“You advertise in the paper and show them this is what we have,” he said. “We need to get some of those ‘mom and pop' stores back. … you have to get rid of all those dilapidated properties, show what is going on in town and give a tax abatement again, if we have to.”

Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 ortyerace@tribweb.com.

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