Developer: Demands for Cranberry Woods project 'over the top'

| Sunday, July 21, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Cranberry officials made “over the top” demands for development of the Village of Cranberry Woods which, along with soil problems, made it impossible for UPMC and the Pittsburgh Penguins to build a sports medicine facility there, a developer said.

“We worked hand-in-hand with UPMC for the last 18 months to provide the township what they were asking for, and it just took too long to satisfy the township requirements,” said Don Rodgers, owner of Creative Real Estate Development, whose Cranberry Woods project now seems to be in limbo.

He vowed to take his development business to Jackson and Lancaster townships, to which Ronald Henshaw, the township's director of community development, fired back: “The township is always in search of good developers, so whether it's Mr. Rodgers or someone else, as long as they can meet with the vision of the township and the board of supervisors, we don't care who the developer is,” he said.

UPMC and the Penguins last week withdrew plans for a sports medicine complex at the 57-acre Cranberry Woods development and instead chose property about a half-mile north at Interstate 79 and Route 228. The property is owned by developer Gary Sippel and once had been considered for a shopping mall.

Rodgers said he's put about $1 million into Cranberry Woods with conceptual drawings and permits and other related costs, and he wasn't sure what the fate of the site would be, given the soil issues.

“I don't know if I can answer that question right now,” he said. “The problem with the site is that we have bad soils. Therefore, it's questionable what we can put on that site.”The Penguins and UPMC said the Sippel site, which stretches nearly 80 acres, fits their needs better and wouldn't need as much preparation work.

Land for Cranberry Woods, which Rodgers has owned since 2007, sits in an area that the township requires to be more resident-friendly.

Developers can propose high-density projects, such as apartment or office buildings, but township leaders can set conditions to make them blend in better, such as parking and pedestrian facilities.

Rodgers said township officials set too many conditions for the 190,000-square-foot UPMC/Penguins facility, which would feature two ice rinks, to build for a summer 2015 opening like the two organizations wanted.

UPMC would build the $70 million complex, and the Penguins would lease most of it.

Rodgers said township planners required construction of a $1 million pedestrian plaza. Henshaw said the township required the plaza, but attached no price tag.

Another major stumbling block, Rodgers said, is that the soil contained clay and shale, which would affect what kind of retaining walls, some more than 40 feet high, would be built.

Rodgers said it would have cost his firm and UPMC about $27 million to scoop out the bad soil, truck in new soil and build retaining walls. Rodgers said that the township “wanted us to enhance the walls so they were pretty, and that cost $1 million.”

Henshaw said Rodgers came up with a compromise to allow the walls to integrate into the development.

Rodgers also said the township asked for $500,000 more than the $1.5 million in impact fees he was paying. The fees prevent taxpayers from being stuck with the cost of infrastructure upgrades.

“The township requires developers to pay their own way for infrastructure improvements of traffic, sewer and water,” Henshaw said. “When you have that kind of a dense development, you have to pay for those improvements.”

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or

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