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Monroeville rejects Gateway request to rezone middle school

Dillon Carr
| Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017, 4:27 p.m.
Gateway Middle School is located at 4450 Old William Penn Highway in Monroeville.
Dillon Carr | Tribune-Review
Gateway Middle School is located at 4450 Old William Penn Highway in Monroeville.

Monroeville council has denied Gateway School District's request to rezone its middle school property, despite a recommendation to approve the change from the municipality's planning commission.

Gateway was seeking to change Gateway Middle School's zoning from residential to commercial.

Councilman Ron Harvey, who said in October he was likely to approve the request, changed his mind when the vote was taken at a meeting last week. The school is in the voting district Harvey represents.

He said he was uncomfortable rezoning the property without knowing what would replace the school if it was sold.

“The only reason it would be worth more if it was already rezoned is a potential buyer wouldn't have to go through the legalities of coming up before us,” Harvey said. “I don't think I would want to rezone a piece of property and not know what its intended use was.”

Councilwoman Linda Gaydos agreed.

“It's kind of like putting the cart before the horse because they could sell it to a nonprofit and, therefore, doesn't come back on the tax rolls,” she said. “They could put a casino there. And maybe some people would love that, but maybe other people would hate that … I think knowing more facts prior to us making a decision makes more sense.”

Harvey, Gaydos, Steve Duncan and Paul Caliari voted to deny the district's request. Mayor-elect Nick Gresock and Councilman Tom Wilson dissented. Councilman Jim Johns was absent.

Wilson was concerned council's denial would make it more difficult to sell the property to a developer who would put it back on the municipality's tax rolls. Gresock did not say why he voted to rezone the property.

Gateway school board members Steve O'Donnell, Valerie Warning, Scott Williams and George Lapcevich attended the meeting and walked out together with the district's hired surveyor, Robert Mittal of R.F. Mittal and Associates, when the motion to rezone the property failed.

“I'm disappointed they voted to deny this since the school has complied on any and all requests for information the municipality asked for,” O'Donnell said. “I think they denied it based on hypothetical concerns.”

He said it will be up to the school board to decide whether to put the property up for sale without the commercial zoning, but he is doubtful they will.

“I'm going to listen to my fellow board members and the 360 Group to see what they say,” O'Donnell said, referring to the real estate firm the board hired in April.

Rob Elms, who submitted a complaint to the Pennsylvania Department of Education in October, said he is happy with the municipality's decision. Elms' complaint said the rezoning request suggested the district planned to sell the school, which required a public hearing that didn't take place.

“I'm just jubilant that some people would take to heart the need of the residents so they can have a voice in things. That's what it was all about,” Elms said.

But he said he still hopes the Education Department makes a judgment on his complaint.

“Just because the municipality denied it doesn't mean the school district won't keep submitting their request,” he said.

Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2325, or via Twitter @dillonswriting.

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