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Altman Farms 'quadplex' developer seeks North Huntingdon zoning change

| Wednesday, June 18, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

North Huntingdon residents who worry about increase in traffic and the prospect of losing woods and farmland around their properties in the Altman Farms housing plan are protesting a proposed zoning change that would permit the construction of multiunit housing.

Developer Robert Shuster has requested a zoning change for 35.65 acres owned by the Talarico family so he can construct buildings that contain up to four attached units, sometimes called “quadplexes.”

The property off Gina Drive currently is zoned for single-family homes. If commissioners approve the zoning request for a zoning change, which has been recommended by the planning commission, Shuster plans to construct buildings with a total of 40 housing units. The public hearing is required before township commissioners can vote on the measure.

“When I walk off my back porch you see woods, you see deer, you see turkey. It's a very private area,” Randy Goehring of Altman Street said during a public hearing last Thursday before township commissioners.

Goehring said he's unhappy about the prospect of losing the privacy he now enjoys in his backyard.

“You can walk out your back door, have a little fire at night with your family and not have somebody peering down or maybe giving you problems,” he said.

Township manager John Shepherd noted that similar worries are voiced with each new housing development.

“Every plan that gets built, the people who were there prior to it didn't want it,” he said.

Marion Caldwell of First Street lamented the township's changing landscape from development.

“Once upon a time, I used to play up in that field,” said Caldwell, 60. “Now you want to put some more (houses) up there. I don't know why. It's not zoned for multihouses, and you people don't want them. So how do we stop them from going up there?”

Solicitor Bruce Dice reminded residents that while township officials can regulate a number of things related to development, “people have the right to develop their properties.”

Judy Mullen of Coventry Court questioned whether the new homes would affect the value of surrounding properties, which typically sell for about $245,000.

Shuster, who plans to build homes in the $300,000 to $350,000 range, said adding more expensive homes to an area typically increases the value of nearby properties.

He described the units he plans to build as “upscale units for retired people.”“The people who are buying these homes are probably 55 and older,” Shuster said. “So I don't see a lot of children going up there. It's not going to put a burden on our school district, but it is going to bring in a lot of nice tax money.”

Shepherd said letting the current zoning stand would not necessarily protect residents from such issues.

“Under the current zoning, you can't put in multiunit housing,” he said. “But you can put in single-family homes of whatever quality someone wants — it can be modular, it can be $500,000 homes or somewhere in between. The township can't control any of that.”

While a number of residents lamented the loss of privacy that might come with developing the property, the impact on traffic was high on their list of concerns.

“When my kids were 5 years old, I taught them how to ride a bike on Gina Drive,” said Mark Beardmore of Gina Drive. “But that's going to be like Route 30. I'm concerned about the traffic. Gina Drive can't handle this.”

While residents were free to raise concerns about how the zoning change might affect the neighborhood, Dice stressed that things such as traffic control, buffer zones, storm-water management and other measures that address a project's impact are handled after a site plan is submitted.

The solicitor said each phase of a project, and any changes made, must undergo several by planners and be approved by township commissioners.

Shuster tried to calm residents' fears by reminding them that he is personally vested in the community.

“I'm not hear to screw this township up,” he said. “But I'm concerned financially for North Huntingdon. I'm trying to utilize this property the best way I know how. This is not our first rodeo developing land. We know what we're doing and we'll do it right. We won't let you down.”

Tony LaRussa is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-856-7400, ext. 8626, or at tlarussa@tribweb.com.

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