Location, location, location: Cranberry really has it
Two-thirds of the more than $300 million in development in Butler County during the past year occurred in the Cranberry area, where much of the growth resulted from the 2009 relocation of Westinghouse.
Township officials say growth in the southwestern part of the county includes stores, offices, schools and churches, valued at $120 million. With home construction and infrastructure work, the value tops $200 million. The Westinghouse move from Allegheny County brought with it more than 3,000 jobs.
Some of the development is radiating outward, into adjoining communities — for example, the Buncher Co. development at Jackson Pointe Commerce Park in Jackson and new housing in Adams. But no portion of the county has grown like Cranberry, at the intersection of Interstate 79, the turnpike and routes 228 and 19.
“Cranberry is blessed by location,” said Perry O'Malley, executive director of the county's redevelopment authority. “Location drives development. There's no doubt about it. Ten years from now, you'll see building spreading up toward Slippery Rock.”
Westinghouse benefited from tax breaks, locating its offices in a development area created by Gov. Ed Rendell that exempted the company from local, county and state taxes, saving it $3 million a year for 15 years.
Township Manager Jerry Andree said Cranberry hasn't offered other tax incentives to spur growth. Instead, it relied on its reputation as a growing community to lure development. In October, Cranberry Crossroads, anchored by a Dick's Sporting Goods store, opened along Route 228, the latest newcomer to an area packed with hotels, restaurants and other facilities.
People elsewhere are noticing. Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese Bishop David A. Zubik said Cranberry's growth in part led to the decision to build a Catholic high school for 1,000 students there. UPMC and the Pittsburgh Penguins want to team up on a hockey-centered sports medicine complex along Route 228.
Last week, Bloomberg Businessweek named Cranberry the best town in Pennsylvania to raise a family.
“It certainly validates the public policy our board has always stood for, investing in the quality of life,” Andree said. “It's a great community where people want to live, and economic development follows. It's all connected.”
Butler County's real estate taxes are lower than in many Western Pennsylvania communities. Officials said that has helped attract development but it doesn't mean the county is flush with cash.
During a 2013 budget presentation, Bill O'Donnell, a retired chief clerk who is consulting for the county, said the use of 1969 property assessment values hurts Butler County. Commission Chairman Bill McCarrier said a reassessment, at $8 million, could be too costly.
The market value of real estate in the county is $10 billion, records show. The total assessed value, based on 100 percent of 1969 costs, is $1.69 billion.
For 2013, the county expects to collect about $35 million in real estate taxes. School districts receive about 75 percent of that money; the county gets about 17 percent and municipalities, 8 percent.
“We want this county to grow,” Commissioner A. Dale Pinkerton said.
O'Malley points to a proposed development in Buffalo Township, which would include a sports complex. He predicted development will spread into areas of the county along routes 8 and 422 and Interstate 79.
“But it's a slow, long drawn-out process,” he said.
The city of Butler last week approved tax cuts to try to attract businesses. It's competing for $6 million in state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program money to jump-start redevelopment of the downtown, including construction of a hotel and redevelopment of Penn Theatre.
Butler County Planning Commission Director David Johnston said the recession hurt housing development outside the Cranberry/Adams area, although that's beginning to improve.
In 2009, the county received 268 subdivision/site plans with 570 dwellings. In 2012, by comparison, the county received 250 plans involving 1,012 dwellings, though Johnston couldn't say how many of those plans were completed.
“Other than in the southwest section of the county, a lot has been on hold, or developing piecemeal,” Johnston said.
Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or firstname.lastname@example.org.