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Chaney named new Blairsville Community Development Authority director

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By Jeff Himler

Published: Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012

Leann Chaney has expanded her role in the Blairsville community, transitioning from a part-time borough consultant to the chief staff member of the Blairsville Community Development Authority.

The authority board of directors, at its annual reorganization meeting on Monday, hired Chaney as the organization's new executive director, filling a vacancy left by the recent departure of James Carmo.

The board also elected Ed Smith to a one-year term as its new president. Smith succeeds James Garvin Jr., who was named vice president after announcing he would not seek re-election as president because of additional responsibilities with his firm, Garvin Engineering and Municipal Management.

Chaney has served Blairsville Borough for several years as a planning and grant-writing consultant. Smith explained those duties will now be added to her new role as BCDA director. She will work a 40-hour week and will receive a $40,000 salary and benefits for the combined authority and borough tasks, Smith said.

The authority "was created to work as an extension of the borough," Chaney noted. So, "It made sense that it would be more coordinated having one person doing both jobs. I'm doing the same thing I've been doing, just under a different name."

Chaney served as one of several key consultants who recently guided the borough through a multi-faceted strategic planning process that concluded in December. Updating past studies, the new planning effort reviewed such topics as parking and zoning and included creation of an overall action plan. Now, Chaney said, the borough and BCDA will "be looking at implementing the plan recommendations and capitalizing on the renewed interest in downtown living."

As the BCDA director, Chaney will assume management of all authority projects and activities. The authority was formed by borough council to oversee various development efforts in the town.

Currently, the BCDA is focused on planning and preparations for a proposed Riverfront Village residential development on property the authority owns at the west end of Blairsville's Market Street. That area includes the former campus of the Vale Tech automotive school.

The borough recently was awarded a $1 million state grant to help with razing eight buildings on the property, to make way for development of up to 60 some "market-rate" housing units.

"We are preparing bid specifications to demolish those buildings," Smith said, noting the authority also is working to finalize an agreement with a Pittsburgh firm that has submitted a proposal for developing the housing.

"If we can get these new developments down there, it will be a real plus for our tax base," he commented.

According to Smith, it's been suggested that concrete from some of the buildings destined for the wrecking ball be used as a base for a hiking and biking trail loop the borough expects to construct this year between Market Street and the Conemaugh River. "We could go a little bit on the greener side," he said. "That way we won't have to buy (crushed) limestone" for the trail base.

Chaney noted BCDA additionally is managing the borough's multi-year Elm Street program, which channels state dollars to help fund home facade projects and other improvements in designated residential neighborhoods. The program is beginning its third year, the final one covered under a $150,000 grant that also provides some operational funding for BCDA. According to Chaney, the borough will have to reapply if it wants to seek continued funding for a fourth year and a fifth year of the program.

"She is an excellent grant writer. We're glad we got her with her experience," Smith said of Chaney's hiring as the BCDA director.

When she's not busy with tasks for Blairsville Borough and the BCDA, Chaney said she intends to continue working on her own time as a planning and grant consultant for other clients. She also has provided services to Saltsburg Borough.

Formerly the chief planner for the Indiana County office of planning and development, Chaney noted she continues to work with that office as a part-time planning specialist --...focusing on completion of a comprehensive plan for the county.

Chaney is a graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where she received a bachelor's degree in regional planning and a master's degree in geography with a concentration in GIS mapping.

Since 2000, she has been actively involved in community planning and development in Indiana County and has served on regional transportation and planning committees sponsored by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission. She received certification from the American Institute of Certified Planners in 2005 and was the inaugural recipient of the Irving Hand Excellence in Planning Professional Development Award. The annual award, sponsored by the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Planning Association, is presented to a candidate who demonstrates excellence in the field of community planning and a desire to enhance their expertise and skills.

In other business at Monday's BCDA board meeting, Linda Gwinn was re-elected secretary and new board members James Mollo and Dick Headrick were elected treasurer and assistant treasurer, respectively. The board retained Paul Bell as its solicitor.

The board will hold regular meetings at 10 a.m. on the second Monday of each month. The meetings will continue to be held at the BCDA offices, at 53-55 W. Market Street, Blairsville.

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