Boom town: Housing demand continues to soar in Penn Township
Scores of new houses and condominiums popping up in Penn Township reflect an uptick in housing demand thanks to open spaces and strong economy, developers and Realtors say.
New neighborhoods are appearing with names like “Lorien Fields,” “Sterling Oaks” and “Abby Place,” with no sign of slowing down.
“With everything that's going on, over the next couple years, you're probably going to see about 150 new homes,” said Bill Roberts, the township's community development technician. “The need for housing is definite, there's no doubt about it. You just need to look around.”
By Roberts' count, at least six housing developments in the township are in the construction or planning phases by developers including Ryan Homes, Shuster Homes and D.M. Brentzel Builders.
“These builders would not be here if there was not demand for housing in Penn Township,” he said.
Homes in the township are selling faster than they're going on the market, according to Pam Sovich, branch manager for realty company Berkshire Hathaway.
“Overall, our market is good, and the inventory of homes is low right now, so we have buyers who want to buy who just can't find a home in some price ranges,” Sovich said.
Until recently, only a handful of Penn Township homes sold for $400,000, the top of the price range. Now prices are going up, and many of the new homes cost that much or more, Sovich said.
The median home value of a Penn Township home in 2015 was $177,900, up about $5,000 from 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey.
The median list price of houses put on sale in the township is about $200,000, according to real estate website Zillow.
Sovich's best guess as to why the township is experiencing a housing boom is that nearby Murrysville and Monroeville have little vacant land for new construction.
That makes Penn Township, with its sparse population and large tracts of open land, attractive to prospective home buyers who might have considered living elsewhere, she said.
About 650 people per square mile live in Penn Township, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Monroeville, by comparison, has more than 1,400.
There's no guarantee the township's housing boom will continue, said Karen Brentzel, of D.M. Brentzel Builders. While there's lots of undeveloped property, the people who own it are rarely willing to sell.
“I think what has happened is a few of the farmers who have held onto their property for an exceptionally long time have decided to sell, and that's bringing building back into the area,” Brentzel said. “We're running out of property. For a long time, there was no property for sale in Penn Township.”
D.M. Brentzel is building a 21-unit development called Abby Place in Level Green.
A stronger economy also is spurring the development, Brentzel said. While her company has been working in the township for decades, a surging housing market is bringing in new blood.
“We went through this same phase back in the '90s,” she said. “Whenever the recession hit, we lost a lot of builders. A lot.”
Some of the new developments have courted controversy. Residents of the Village at Stonegate, a small neighborhood in Harrison City, have been fighting to change the plans for a 19-unit condominium development, slated to go up next-door.
Paul Stieman, executive board president for the Village at Stonegate Homeowners' Association, said he's not opposed to new homes being built nearby, just the way the project is being done.
“We think the development itself is good for the township,” he said.
Stieman moved to the township from Monroeville in 2009, during an earlier wave of residential building. He bought a new home on the aptly named Park View Court — from his back deck he can see the basketball courts and walking trails of the township's Municipal Park Complex. It's a dead-end road, and when Stieman moved in he thought it would stay that way.
The proposed Courtyard at Stonegate would be accessible only from his street, which has Stieman concerned about increased traffic. More than 30 residents in his neighborhood last year signed a petition seeking to move the entrance to the new development.
The plans also call for storm runoff to run through a pipe down a nearby hill into a drainage pond near the park. That would require cutting down a swath of trees on township-owned land.
“The negotiations are going on as to whether that is going to happen,” Roberts said.
The planning commission recommended approving the plan, but the final decision rests with township commissioners, who have tabled the matter twice amidst concerns of flooding and other worries. They are expected to discuss it again in August.
Ray Snoznik of R.A. Snoznik Construction, the company behind the planned development, could not be reached for comment.
Stieman said there should be middle ground between filling the demand for new homes and preserving the quality of life for those already living in Penn Township.
“I think there's a balance there somewhere,” he said. “I think it is important to grow the population in general.”
Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6646 or firstname.lastname@example.org.