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Groups join forces on zoning, planning issues in N. Huntington

| Friday, April 12, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Over the next two months, North Huntingdon officials will draft a plan for the township's economic growth, based on suggestions from commissioners and planning commission members.

After that, the two groups can meet again, township Manager John Shepherd said Thursday during a combined meeting of commissioners and planners. They have held a series of meetings this year addressing zoning and planning.

Officials brainstormed ways to be more proactive about finding businesses and to market the township, which has welcomed more than 1,000 homes over the past decade.

Planning director/engineer Andrew Blenko said the township could benefit from light industry or a business park. Those industries would bring good jobs and would attract home buyers, he said.

“I think what we should be really trying to attract is the light industrial, the research and development, the company headquarters,” Blenko said. “To open up another strip mall, I don't think that's doing us any good. You're just rearranging the dollars and where they're spent.”

The township is already home to impressive businesses, Blenko said, highlighting a 3D printing operation and a stainless steel manufacturer. Other businesses might be attracted by marketing materials showing what the township already has, he said.

“I think companies like to be in the same place as companies that they're parallel with,” Blenko said. “Say ‘Look what we have in North Huntingdon — come join us.'”

Bernard Solomon, a planning commission member, touted the township's location near the turnpike, which he said might make a good site for a regional business.

“We're at the crossroads of probably the two busiest roads in Westmoreland County — Route 30 and the turnpike,” Blenko said. “I think there's a lot of things to be proud about of what we have to offer. Maybe it's just trying to market it a little bit.”

The approach is to first identify parcels that could be used for industrial development, planning commission President William Chapman said. Officials can also identify big businesses that might be interested in opening satellite offices in the township, he said.

Part of the process will be a self-assessment, analyzing the township's amenities and how it works with county and state agencies, Mike Turley, township assistant manager, said.

Attorney Bruce Dice lauded Monroeville, which hired a marketing firm to brand its municipality.

“This is capitalism, that's what this is about. ... It's about bringing in somebody that's interested in doing business here. If you want to attract business, you're going to have to spend some money doing it,” Dice said. “Remember something — bedrooms don't pay the bills. Businesses do.”

Commissioner Rich Gray questioned how officials can strike a consensus of what to do to rebrand the community.

“If we're going to rebrand the community and remarket it, what's going to be our brand? We were rural, then a bedroom community. What do we want to be next? Do we want to be another Monroeville, do we want to be a commercial district? I know there are people opposed to that,” Gray said.

Officials on Thursday also discussed recreation opportunities in the township.

Solomon said the township has “limited recreational facilities” and he pushed for the township to seek grants for more.

“There's no reason we couldn't put in a par 3 course, driving range, dek hockey, bating cages, zip line,” he said. “If we could have somebody looking for grants such as this. ... I think it's something that's years and years waiting to be done.”

Rossilynne Skena is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6646 or rskena@tribweb.com.

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