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Cranberry at odds with developer

| Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Bill Vidonic | Tribune-Review
Developer Don Rodgers could soon finish this road connecting Graham Park with the Park Place housing development in Cranberry. The road has been unfinished for several years.

A Cranberry developer wants township supervisors to restore waivers that would have exempted him from paying $525,000 in recreation fees for the Park Place development.

The credits are tied to Don Rodgers' agreement to donate 53 acres of land adjacent to the township's Graham Park in exchange for the credits.

The township and Rodgers disagree as to why the credits no longer exist.

The deal specified that Rodgers, owner of Creative Real Estate Development, was to build an access road from Graham Park into his development. The township said that the road hasn't been built, so the credits are no longer being offered.

Rodgers claims the township took 37 of 53 acres he agreed to donate to Cranberry for use as an exercise trail but didn't provide the credits, costing him millions of dollars in tax write-offs as a charitable donation.

“As far as I'm concerned, Cranberry has taken our contribution of land and reneged on the deal to give us the (recreation credit),” said Rodgers, a developer for nearly 30 years.

Township officials said Rodgers agreed to donate the land — and township supervisors voted to accept it in June — because it wanted to proceed with building a trail connecting the park to Hunter's Creek housing development.

Rodgers was asked for an appraisal of the donated land earlier this year, township officials said. When Rodgers said he didn't have one, the township paid to have one done that appraised the property at about $200,000.

Rodgers said his subsequent appraisal valued the land at $5.13 million.

In June, township supervisors voted to accept 37 acres of the land from Rodgers.

“I wish he had given us a certified appraisal,” township Engineer Jason Kratsas said. “At the time, he said he didn't have one. We had a time constraint.”

The township wanted to complete the exercise trail during summer construction months. The trail is to be formally dedicated on Oct. 2.

It's the latest dustup in a deteriorating relationship between the township and Rodgers since the July collapse of Rodgers' development of The Village at Cranberry Woods, which was to have featured a UPMC-Pittsburgh Penguins sports complex.

Rodgers is scheduled to appear before the Cranberry supervisors on Thursday for conditional use approval of the Park Place development, which could feature about 880 housing units in a mix of single-family homes, townhomes and apartments. More than 350 housing units are already done or under construction. Rodgers has been developing the project since the early 2000s.

Cranberry charges developers a recreational fee of $1,050 for each housing unit to pay for parks, road development and other amenities. A housing developer can use the credits to entice builders by saying that the project will be a little cheaper since there are no recreation fees attached.

Ron Henshaw, Cranberry's director of community development, said the township wanted to open up the landlocked Graham Park through connecting roads, including one by the BelleVue Park housing development along Rochester Road and Graham Park Drive.

Because development of the project had stalled and the road wasn't completed by 2009, Henshaw said, the recreation fee credit “is no longer being offered.” Supervisors could, however, reverse that decision, he said.

To get a credit for the recreation fees to offset the cost of building a road, Rodgers said he agreed to donate 53 acres to the township.

But Kratsas said the state Department of Environmental Protection told the township much of the 53 acres couldn't be developed because of wetlands, so it agreed to accept the lesser 37 acres.

Rodgers said he didn't believe the township had the right to take a portion of the land he promised. He said that the value of the land that the township accepted is $3.5 million, and he lost a tax write-off for a charitable contribution for about $1.4 million.

Rodgers said he still intends to build the road, which he said will cost $700,000, regardless of the recreation fee decision.He blamed Cranberry's “over the top demands” and soil problems for sinking plans to build a sports medicine facility at the Village of Cranberry Woods. UPMC and the Penguins decided to build instead on property at Interstate 79 and Route 228 owned by developer Gary Sippel.

The Village at Cranberry Woods project, which was also to feature office and retail space, is “virtually undevelopable” under current township zoning codes, Rodgers said.

Township officials said they tried to work with Rodgers as much as possible to move the project forward.

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

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