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Penn Crossing added to LERTA discussion

| Wednesday, May 7, 2014, 7:00 p.m.

The Penn Crossing Shopping Center might be the next area that Penn Township commissioners target for a temporary tax-abatement program to encourage commercial growth.

Development of the center, which includes a Giant Eagle store and other retail businesses on Penny Lane, has stalled because sewage service and roads haven't been extended to part of the property, township officials said during a joint meeting Monday with the Penn-Trafford School Board about proposed tax-abatement zones in the township.

“It's really a boon to everybody if you can get commercial growth,” Penn Township Solicitor Les Mlakar said.

The two boards already have shown interest in designating a temporary tax-abatement zone through the Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance Act, or LERTA, for the Bushy Run Corporate Park and some properties near the Rite Aid store at the intersection of Route 130 and Pleasant Valley Road.

Commissioners are planning to schedule a public hearing on a LERTA designation that would waive taxes on improvements to those properties by 100 percent for the first three years, 50 percent for the fourth year and 25 percent for the fifth.

The school district, township and Westmoreland County would continue to collect taxes based on the properties' current state and then receive 100 percent of the taxes on the improvements in the sixth year.

Noting a recent LERTA designation near the turnpike in North Huntingdon, Penn Township manager Bruce Light said township commissioners see the abatement program as a way of enticing businesses to grow in Penn Township or move here.

“We have to go head to head and compete with other municipalities,” he said.

Commissioners didn't say for certain that they would add Penn Crossing to the LERTA plan — at least, not immediately.

The Bushy Run Corporate Park and Route 130 area have been the primary areas under consideration because investors are interested in building there.

Giant Eagle officials had been planning a GetGo gas station for the Penn Crossing plaza but pulled out of the plan, Commissioner Paul Wersing said.

“If they came back, I'm sure we'd entertain (the project),” Wersing said.

With both the school board and commissioners trying to stave off tax increases in the coming years, the LERTA zones might lead to new tax revenue through commercial developments, Dallas Leonard said. Even if investors have to walk away from a project that they start, somebody will be responsible long term for paying the taxes of any buildings on the properties, said Leonard, a school board member who is the township's community-development director.

The Westmoreland County Industrial Park III, which is off Mellon Road in Penn Township, is one of four county parks that were developed through LERTA incentives.

Those four parks now have 46 businesses that employ 2,600 people, said Ben Wentzel, business-development director for the Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corp.

“I think a lot of that has to do with the draw of the LERTA,” Wentzel said.

Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8671,or cforeman@tribweb.com.

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