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Homestead development project on Eighth Avenue progresses

| Friday, Sept. 13, 2013, 3:36 a.m.

Development appears to moving ahead on several properties in Homestead.

Council on Thursday approved a recommendation from the borough's historical architecture review board that gives the green light to parts of a $13 million commercial and residential project.

The project, which has been in development for about four years by a.m. Rodriguez Associates Inc., has been deemed architecturally appropriate with respect to existing buildings that surround it in the 100 block of E. Eighth Avenue and along Amity Street.

The firm needed the historical approval on its plans to build a 6,000-square-foot commercial building along E. Eighth Avenue and rebuild the old post office along Amity Street at Ninth Avenue. The project will include townhouses along Amity Street.

In total, the project will add 30 new commercial units and 51 residential units to the community.

Council rezoned the borough's old municipal building at Ninth Avenue and Amity Street. The structure, which has been abandoned for about 25 years, was zoned for public use only. Now it is zoned for commercial development.

Councilman Lloyd Cunningham said the surrounding neighborhood already is zoned for commercial use. He said the borough has been trying to market the building and has several parties interested in purchasing it.

The rezoning is necessary, he said, if the borough plans to sell the property.

“It's not going to come up with very much money,” Cunningham said of the three-story structure. “If someone just fixes it up, we're ahead of the game.”

Cunningham said parties that have expressed interest in the building include a group of sculptors, nonprofit organizations and a hydroponic farming operation.

In other matters, Mayor Betty Esper raised concerns that the borough is mishandling its police department payroll. She said supplemental insurance premiums and union dues are being taken out of officers' paychecks but going unpaid.

Police Chief Jeff DeSimone said his entire department lost supplemental insurance coverage over the summer when premiums for April, May and June went unpaid.

The initial matter apparently was rectified when the department filed a grievance but, as was noted at the meeting, problems are continuing.

DeSimone said he and other officers received letters this week from Aflac insurance company that only a portion of their insurance is being paid.

DeSimone indicated there has been a lack of communication from borough administration on the matter.

“This is the first time anybody has addressed this with us,” he told council.

Councilwoman Zaneta Hines said she thought the payroll issues had been fixed and that she wasn't aware that new ones were occurring.

Addressing DeSimone, she said, “This wasn't personal. It was a mistake.” Hines noted that a similar problem had occurred in the public works department.

Hines said the initial problems were the fault of “human error,” but would not further describe the situation, citing legal concerns related to personnel issues.

Councilman Drew Borcik suggested Esper, DeSimone, borough manager Ian McMeans and the borough's insurance broker arrange a conference call for Friday to try to iron out the problems. Council authorized the phone call by unanimous vote.

Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1966, or eslagle@tribweb.com.

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