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Riverfront housing moves forward in Blairsville

The Blairsville Community Development Authority is moving forward with plans for the Riverfront Village housing development at the west end of town with recent approval of a developer's agreement with Pittsburgh-based Fourth River Development.

In a written report at last week's Blairsville Borough Council meeting, BCDA Executive Director Leann Chaney noted the authority board had approved and signed a copy of the agreement. She indicated this week that the authority was anticipating execution of the agreement by officials at Fourth River.

The developer's previous residential projects include such Pittsburgh-area sites as Summerset at Frick Park.

Working with Fourth River, the BCDA is proposing to develop up to 64 "market rate" housing units along West Market Street and adjacent areas -- including the former campus of the Vale Tech automotive school.

Mark Schneider, managing partner with Fourth River, has indicated the firm is planning to construct homes with prices beginning in the mid-$100,000 range. As development progresses, "We'll see how deep that market is in Blairsville," he said. Plans call for a mix of single-family homes, duplexes and condos.

A non-profit, borough-created entity, the BCDA owns eight buildings in the proposed project area -- properties that were acquired with the assistance of a $500,000 grant from the state Housing and Redevelopment Assistance (HRA) program and $1 million in additional funding awarded through the Redevelopment Capital Assistance Program (RCAP) of Pennsylvania's Office of the Budget.

Chaney said portions of the RCAP funding also will go toward demolition of existing buildings and possibly infrastructure needs, such as water or sewage taps and curb improvements. "We're getting a construction-ready site available," she noted.

Once the agreement with Fourth River is signed and delivered, Chaney said one of the next steps for BCDA will be to "identify and affirm a company that will do a baseline environmental assessment." The authority also will need to prepare specifications for the demolition phase of the project and solicit bids from contractors.

Asked when residents can expect to see structures being razed, Chaney said, "Right now we're estimating in August. We plan to demolish as much as we can at one time."

How it'll work

Under the developer's agreement, the BCDA would gradually sell parcels to Fourth River for residential construction and also would collect a portion of the selling price of each completed home. According to Chaney, the authority would receive $10,000 for each of the first four units the developer plans to build.

She said the portion of the project area to be targeted for initial construction had yet to be determined. "We'll have to revisit that once we get the agreement executed," she said.

Chaney said state officials had yet to rule on the BCDA's application for an additional $250,000 HRA grant. If the funding is approved, she said, it would cover "soft costs related to the project that can't be paid by RCAP funds" -- such as the environmental assessment, administrative costs or possibly "subsidizing the cost of a few homes to make them affordable" for prospective owners.

Chaney also reported that the BCDA was expecting payment this week of $50,000 from the state Department of Community and Economic Development, representing administrative funds for Blairsville's second year of participation in the Elm Street program. That program is a state-approved effort to make improvements in targeted residential neighborhoods of the borough. The expected DCED payment is based on the 2011 Elm Street program year.

Chaney said she is working on an additional funding application with Laura Hawkins of the Allegheny Ridge Corporation. According to Chaney, Hawkins' organization is planning to apply on behalf of the BCDA for an $8,000 grant from the Indiana County Endowment. If approved, the grant would help with design and development of a visitor- and business-oriented website and interpretive signs for Blairsville.

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