Monroeville council delayed voting on an ordinance that would have put the municipality’s only public pool up for sale after a fiery debate spearheaded by residents.
The unanimous vote on June 11 to table the ordinance happened after more than an hour of back-and-forth between council members and residents.
Some asked council to reconsider selling the property while others presented their ideas as to how the proceeds from a sale should be utilized.
The discussion came to a head when Councilman Tom Wilson addressed a resident who sought clarity on the appraised value of the pool’s property.
“I’m so tired of listening to you – you’re just not making any sense,” he said to resident Frank Pekarek. The councilman’s words caused a stir in council chambers as Deputy Mayor Greg Erosenko rapped his gavel and threatened to “clear the room” if people didn’t calm down.
Council members and municipal staff have been meeting with the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) for more than a year to negotiate a sale price for the 10-acre property off Abers Creek Road. Municipal Manager Tim Little said the PTC approached the municipality in May 2018.
At that point, Councilman Ron Harvey said, the commission paid for an appraisal of the property and allowed municipal staff to choose the appraiser, who rendered an appraisal of around $450,000.
“(PTC) made an offer to us, and then we said $1 million, and they turned it down and said $956,000,” Harvey said at the meeting. “I didn’t think there was, in my opinion, there was a lot (more) to do … we were already doubling our money.”
According to county real estate records, the property’s assessed value is $996,000.
The PTC needs the property in order to make way for its widening of the Turnpike, said Renee Colborn, a spokeswoman for the commission.
Council members also previously hinted at the possibility of the commission using eminent domain to take the property if the municipality doesn’t take the offer, referencing Plum Aqua Club’s loss to the commisssion’s use of eminent domain in 2017.
Robert Wratcher, Monroeville’s solicitor, said the threat of losing the property through eminent domain is a reality. To avoid the costly legal process, Wratcher said government bodies with eminent domain powers negotiate deals with property owners.
If the PTC uses its power to acquire the property through eminent domain, Wratcher said the county’s Board of Viewers would assign a value to the property.
Nancy Philpot, a Monroeville resident, said that could mean the property could be lost for less money to the municipality.
“So the fact that the council has considered the turnpike’s offer … Is council actually making lemonade out of lemons? … You’re either going to lose it at a low value or you’re going to sell it at a better value,” she said.
Colborn said that although the commission has that power, “this was an amicable settlement” and that council’s decision to table the ordinance does not jeopardize the agreement.
Should the property go up for sale, the PTC would purchase the property in September, when the pool’s swimming season expires. Closing on the deal would have a 90-day time limit.
Colborn said construction on the turnpike “is on hold until the funding becomes available to move forward.”
The Monroeville section is one of three that totals 18 miles from Oakmont to Irwin, a project with an estimated cost of $300 million. It includes plans for a total of six lanes of traffic and other bridge and interchange reconstruction.
Some work near Trafford Road started in 2017 with a slope stabilization project to begin in early 2020. For more information on the project, visit bit.ly/2Hb44dE.