Oakmont Council hopefuls pitch ideas
By Tom Yerace
Published: Friday, Nov. 1, 2013, 1:31 a.m.
There will be Republicans and Democrats matched up on Tuesday's ballot for each one of Oakmont Council's four at-large seats.
Only one of the Democrats, Thomas J. Briney, who was appointed to a vacant council seat, is now serving on council. He is joined on the ballot by Sophia Facaros, Thomas Whalen and Patricia Friday.
The Republican incumbents are Laurie Saxon and Timothy Milberger, with newcomers Jerome Kenna and Melissa Botta Havran rounding out that slate.
Havran is running for Riverview School Board. If she were to be elected to both positions, she said she would choose the council seat.
Milberger and Friday did not respond to repeated calls for comment for this story.
Plum Creek flooding
The candidates were asked what they propose to do about the chronic flooding problems for homes and businesses in the Plum Creek corridor.
“The last flooding that took place, the borough moved the leaf (compost) pile so that won't clog any drains,” Saxon said. “We cannot dredge, according to EPA. For as long as I have been on council we have written, pleaded with EPA to help us with these problems, but we haven't gotten much help from them. At this point there isn't a fix in mind — not that I have been told.”
Kenna, a self-employed accountant, said, he didn't know but would consult with professionals.
Havran also wasn't sure. “Maybe creating some extra drainage there so it does not run into people's basements and setting up some additional flood walls,” he said. He pledged to work with residents.
Briney would reactivate the Plum Creek watershed coalition with Plum officials “because the borough often inherits problems that begin up in Plum Borough,” Briney said. “... There have been instances where uncontrolled fill has been placed along the stream and we need to monitor that. There may be embankment improvements that can be made to help control the flow.”
Facaros said a creekside park being constructed will help somewhat, but acknowledged not being well-versed on the problem.
Whalen stressed a need to work with Plum Borough, which is upstream.
He would seek expert advice on reducing runoff and look into building bioswales — barriers to divert runoff before it reaches Plum Creek. Also, Whalen thinks the borough should look at creek blockages and exam the effectiveness of sewers in that area.
Retail at Edgewater
Most of the candidates are wary of allowing the developers of the Edgewater housing plan more leeway in bringing in more types of retail businesses than they allow.
Briney encourages the developer to be creative within the zoning. He thinks uses should complement the central business district.
Saxon agrees that allowed uses should safeguard the business district.
She said although many residents want a grocery store, grocery chains say Oakmont can't support one.
She said there isn't enough property in the Edgewater development.
Saxon said she would lean on planning commission and zoning board rulings.
Whalen wants businesses in the Edgewater plan to be complementary to existing businesses, not competitive with them. But he thinks the borough can work more collaboratively with the developers.
“I mean, we don't want a strip mall down there,” Whalen said. “I really think council could do a better job listening. ... I think there were about 20 items listed in the mixed ordinance that were OK; everything else had to be approved as a conditional use. It may be that the mixed use ordinance is too tight.”
Havran thinks some compromises could be worked out, but she also wants to do no harm to the “mom and pop” stores in town.
“It depends what they are putting in the storefronts,” she said. “Oakmont has certain standards that we need to uphold.”
Facaros said she would favor giving developers more leeway.
“You can't have all houses down there without businesses,” she said. “We really need to have a balance there. They need retail, too. ... I don't think they would be threat. They need some diversity. There is nowhere for youth to shop in town. Those shops are mostly for adults.”
Kenna would be open to more varied retail at Edgewater, too.
“I think business in this community is never a bad thing. ... I don't think that council should decide what businesses can move in, picking winners and losers. I don't think that should be council's responsibility to protect certain businesses or block others. It's a free market.”
Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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