Light rail hopes are building in Castle Shannon
By Michael Aubele and Jodi Weigand
Published: Monday, Feb. 4, 2013, 12:58 a.m.
Castle Shannon Mayor Don Baumgarten has his fingers crossed.
He's “cautiously optimistic” construction of apartments and shops at the Port Authority light rail station in the borough will begin in the spring.
The $35 million development, which could be the first of its kind in Southwestern Pennsylvania, initially was proposed more than 10 years ago.
JRA Development Group Inc. in Lawrenceville plans to build 128 apartments and 14,000 square feet of retail space on a deck above the park-and-ride at the station.
Proponents tout the project as a good example of transit-oriented development — the idea that building near public transportation encourages more people to use it, and that having public transportation nearby makes the development more attractive to residents.
The consultants who want to run a commuter train from Pittsburgh to Lower Burrell think similar developments will sprout along the proposed rail's corridor.
James Aiello Sr., the JRA Development co-founder and principal who first pitched the Castle Shannon Transit Village idea more than a decade ago, couldn't be reached for comment.
Baumgarten said JRA Development has the financing in place and the final step is final approval of a tax-increment financing plan (TIF). The borough and the Keystone Oaks School District have approved the TIF and the Allegheny County Council is expected to do so in February.
TIFs allow a company to borrow money for infrastructure improvements, such as building streets or sewer lines and waterlines. Once a development is complete and a property's taxable value begins to rise, the company uses the added money to pay off the debt.
Among local projects using TIFs have been the Pittsburgh Mills mall in Frazer and the Edgewood residential-commercial development in Oakmont.
The Transit Village project has been in the works for 12 years.
“These things take time, I guess,” said Baumgarten, referring to how long it has taken for the proposed development to reach this stage.
Baumgarten said it puzzles him that a decade has passed; especially because the proposed development is “everything that everybody says is wonderful.”
Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said other transit-oriented developments along the T line are moving forward.
For example, the Port Authority and Allegheny County have a tentative agreement with a developer to build apartments on the six-acre parking lot between its parking garage and light rail maintenance yard near South Hills Village mall.
The planned $41.5 million, 320-unit apartment complex is a joint venture between Massaro Properties in Findlay Township and Dawson Co. in Atlanta.
It would be the largest addition to Bethel Park in the past 15 years, township officials said.
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