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Buffalo Township, Freeport Area settle middle school construction issues

| Thursday, May 15, 2014, 7:39 a.m.

Design issues that were delaying Buffalo Township's approval of Freeport Area School District's middle school construction project have been resolved, the township's engineer said.

Last week, the planning commission would not approve the design because of “significant deficiencies” in the stormwater management plan for the site and other issues.

“It appears they have met the requirements of what our review letter addressed at last week's planning commission meeting,” said township engineer Ken Howard, of Bankson Engineers. “It appears they accomplished what they needed to, and we will be able to give a letter of approval.”

The $30 million school is slated to be built behind the high school on the district's campus on South Pike Road (Route 356).

The district's goal is to open the school in the fall of 2015.

Dennis Russo of Russo Construction Services, the district's construction coordinator for the project, requested that the planning commission meet sooner than next month to vote on whether to recommend that supervisors approve the project's site plan.

The planning commission intends to hold a special meeting May 28 at 7 p.m. at the township building to approve the plan. The supervisors meet that evening at 7:30 p.m. and could approve it.

The district is about two months behind on the project because its site design didn't meet township ordinances.

The issue came to a head at last week's planning commission meeting when Chairwoman Regan Cordier sternly refuted district officials' comments that the commission was delaying the project by finding new problems each time the district submitted revised plans.

“You know what our ordinances say you need to meet them,” she said at the time.

Zoning changes

The Buffalo Township Planning Commission has created a new zoning district and updated the township's billboard restrictions.

Township supervisors are hoping to schedule a June 11 hearing to take public comment on the changes.

The commission created a new Conservation and Traditional Neighborhood Business District zone (CB-1) on a section of property along Freeport Road near the Freeport Bridge that includes the former Dugout Bar and a car wash.

Future development at the site was in question when developer Brian Clark approached the supervisors about making use of the space, which has been vacant for years.

A sticking point was that Clark wanted to erect a billboard at the site.

The township's zoning code previously only permitted billboards in manufacturing districts or in areas that were “grandfathered-in” when the zoning ordinance was passed.

The planning commission revised the code to permit billboards in the new CB-1 zone and meet new industry size standards.

One billboard is permitted per parcel or lot and may not exceed 288 square feet in the CB-1 zone. Larger billboards are permitted in the M-2 manufacturing district.

Previously billboards in all areas were limited to 100 square feet.

The changes followed the Freeport Bridge project completion, which resulted in a new bridge over Buffalo Creek, a new trail head in the area for the Butler-Freeport Community Trail and renewed development interest in the area.

“It was zoned wrong; it was zone Agricultural-1,” said Supervisor John Haven. “We want to make it business-friendly.”

The new district was established to provide some commercial opportunities in areas where steep slope and previous mining activity may need to be mitigated, according to the ordinance.

Existing structures in the new CB-1 zone are permitted to be converted to office space, neighborhood business, day cares, single-family homes and agriculture.

Construction may include retail shops smaller than 20,000 square feet, multi-family homes, restaurants, convenience store or gas station, personal care home or a parking lot.

Clark told supervisors on Wednesday that he would prefer retail shops be included among the permitted uses, rather than a conditional use, which requires additional time and approvals from the planning commission and supervisors.

“I think it's counter-intuitive to what you want to do there,” he said.

He plans to submit written comments to the township.

All comments regarding the zoning changes will be taken into consideration and changes are possible, officials said.

Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or jweigand@tribweb.com.

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