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Carnegie officials showcase borough's development potential

| Wednesday, April 17, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Randy Jarosz | For The Signal Item
Carnegie Councilman Bob Veres (left) and Pat Fenton, director of social services and operation with ACTION Housing Inc., inspect a vacant piece of land on 2nd Avenue during ACTION Housing’s tour of Carnegie.
Randy Jarosz | For The Signal Item
Carnegie Councilman Mike Sarsfield (right) chats with ACTION Housing, Inc. executive Director Larry Swanson about Pucci Apartments on 3rd Street in Carnegie.
Randy Jarosz | For The Signal Item
Carnegie Council President Rick D'Loss and Councilman Mike Sarsfield tell Pat Fenton of ACTION Housing Inc. about the Husler Building on West Main Street in Carnegie.

Carnegie Councilman Bob Veres remembers what life was like in the borough before Hurricane Ivan hit in 2004.

“We had new streets, new sidewalks, new light poles, new decorative lighting (and) new signage (in downtown Carnegie),” Veres said. “Everything looked great, and we were getting the type of business (to go along with it).”

The remnants of Hurricane Ivan dumped nearly 6 inches of rain in a 24-hour period, leading to massive flooding and one death in Carnegie when Chartiers Creek overran its banks. As a result, some businesses never came back to Carnegie and others failed afterward.

But Carnegie officials believe the borough is on its way back and are leading a push for more development.

Council President Rick D'Loss, Councilman Mike Sarsfield and Veres took three workers from ACTION-Housing on a tour of Carnegie earlier this month, hoping to convince the nonprofit to build in the borough.

ACTION, which stands for Allegheny Council To Improve Our Neighborhoods, develops affordable housing for people throughout Western Pennsylvania.

“We're a little bit landlocked as far as being able to build any additional housing to attract residential (development), said Sarsfield, who contacted ACTION-Housing after an organization representative visited the Allegheny County Courthouse to speak about one of its projects. “ACTION-Housing can attract residential (development) through apartment buildings (or) through single-family homes.”

The three council members showed ACTION representatives eight vacant buildings or sites, including the Pucci Apartments, scheduled for demolition sometime later this year, and the borough-owned Family Dollar parking lot at the corner of Mansfield Boulevard and Broadway Street. Those properties could turn into apartment units if ACTION chooses to develop them.

Larry Swanson, executive director of ACTION-Housing Inc., said organization officials go on a few community tours each year. He said transportation advantages — the West Busway begins in Carnegie, and the borough is located near the Parkway West and Interstate 79 — could attract young professionals.

“Transportation-oriented housing is probably one of the most significant things going on in all urban areas in the country today,” Swanson said. “Only so many people can live (in) Downtown (Pittsburgh), and the whole concept is to link people to urban areas through transportation. Light rails and the busway is probably the most advanced way to connect people because the commuting time is so short.”

Swanson said ACTION also looks to develop housing for veterans.

A potential drawback to development is the potential for flooding, as Swanson said buildings would need to be constructed to stay out of the 100-year floodplain.

“Having that part of the building that is financed outside the 100-year floodplain is the key,” Swanson said. “There are significant barriers for any type of private financing or federally guaranteed financing if you're in the 100-year floodplain, and the treatment for that is to bring the building out of the plain. If you can't do that, then you can't develop it.”

Swanson pointed out the Wesbanco Bank at the corner of Mansfield and Broadway, which has a raised lobby, as an example of a treatment for being in the 100-year floodplain.

Veres said Carnegie would ideally see both commercial and residential development, with businesses on the first-floor of buildings and apartment units on the second floor. He said the borough will reach out to more developers in addition to ACTION because of the amount of vacant sites to build on.

“Let's say we get five groups and they all do one project,” he said. “That would be great.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-8527 or dgulasy@tribweb.com.

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