Fayette County prison appeal period under way

| Thursday, June 19, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Fayette County's zoning hearing board issued a resolution on Wednesday granting the county a variance and special exception for a jail to be built in Dunbar and North Union townships, starting the clock on a 30-day appeal period for those who disagree with its findings.

The board in May granted variances allowing the county to build the jail on a lot smaller than the required 150 acres, to plant 143 fewer trees than required and to permit a small section of barbed wire fencing to be visible to the public.

The special exception allows the jail to be built on land zoned for industrial use.

The two board members who voted to grant the special exception and variances, Robert Guerriere and Andre Walters, were not available for comment. Edward Payson, who voted against both requests, declined to comment.

Les Mlakar, an attorney who represented the owners of the nearby Isaac Meason House, Terry and Diane Kriss, said he plans to file an appeal. He declined further comment.

During a four-hour hearing on May 5, the Krisses were among a number of residents who objected to the $32 million jail's placement on an 18.87-acre lot on a 61-acre site off Route 119 and Mt. Braddock Road, near Laurel Mall.

Terry Kriss said his property, which includes the historic Meason House in Dunbar Township, is within 800 feet of the edge of the jail property. The house is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Mlakar haºd argued unsuccessfully that the variances should not have been granted because the county caused its own “hardships” by selecting a site that did not fit zoning requirements for a correctional facility.

Others who spoke against the variances and special exception contend that the area has been strip-mined and undermined, is prone to flooding and is near a planned leg of the Sheepskin Trail.

North Union Supervisor Curt Matthews said the township opposed the proposed jail site because it will be within 1,700 feet of homes.

Michael Filoni, vice president of sales and marketing for Carload Express, which operates the Southwest Pennsylvania Railroad, said building the jail near the railroad tracks will make it difficult to attract rail-served businesses to the area, including those connected to the Marcellus shale natural gas drilling industry.

The board's resolution notes all of the residents' objections and includes one condition specifically addressing some concerns — the county must build an earthen berm, plant trees and install privacy fencing to shield the Sheepskin Trail from the jail.

Four other conditions require the county to: comply with all local, state and federal rules with jurisdiction over construction of jails; obtain approval of a land development plan from the county planning commission; follow the Uniform Construction Code; and follow all requirements within the county's zoning and land development ordinances for building and operating the facility.

The planning commission on May 8 gave the plan preliminary approval. PennDOT's Bureau of Aviation objected because a portion of the jail would encroach upon a “transitional surface area” — space outside flight paths, but considered to be within a “cushion of safety” for approaching aircraft.

The objection won't stop the county from proceeding, said Erin Waters-Trasatt, bureau spokeswoman.

The FAA was reviewing the plan. A spokesman deferred comment on its findings to the county.

Commissioner Al Ambrosini, who has spearheaded the project, said there are no plans to move the proposed location of the jail because it is not within a runway protection zone and only about 25 feet of the structure is within the transitional surface area.

Liz Zemba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or lzemba@tribweb.com.

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