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Report may force some students to switch school districts

| Wednesday, March 28, 2001

Seven Fields resident Monica Ronallo has a Seneca Valley High School sticker on the front door of her town house. For her two sons, she wants nothing more than to keep it there.

The long-term implications of a report by a court-appointed border commission could shift students who live in Seven Fields and Cranberry housing plans that border Adams Township from Seneca Valley to the Mars Area School District.

A legal dispute between a developer and Adams and Cranberry townships has led to a report by the commission that the border between Adams and Cranberry actually is farther west than previously recognized. The actual distance was not released but would enable Rocco Viola to have a larger part of his 90-acre property in Adams Township than in Cranberry.

'I don't understand why all of a sudden this is a problem,' Ronallo said.

Viola, a lawyer-turned-developer, wants to build apartments on a farm along Myoma Road. Adams Township's zoning ordinances would allow Viola a higher-density development than Cranberry's would, but his attorney said that neither municipality could tell him exactly where the boundary was.

The recent report is specific to Viola's property but opens the door for the possibility the entire border could be moved.

If the report applies to Viola's land, it eventually will apply to all the property north and south of Viola's, predicted Doug Weinrich, the solicitor for Seven Fields.

Matthew Marshall, Mars Area's solicitor, said he was unsure whether it was property owners or municipalities that could use the Viola ruling to move the border for neighboring properties.

The legal skirmish eventually could affect three municipalities and two school districts - Cranberry, Adams and Seven Fields and the Seneca Valley and Mars Area school districts.

Ronallo, who lives along Hillvue Drive, has two sons, ages 12 and 17, and Seneca Valley is the only school district her sons have attended.

'My main concern is for my sons,' Ronallo said. 'I don't want my kids moved.'

She said that if establishing the boundary puts her home in Adams Township she hopes that a grandfather clause could keep all the students that started in Seneca Valley in that district until they graduate. Ronallo said she would even consider moving to keep her children at Seneca Valley.

Seneca Valley officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Christine Wells, Seven Fields borough manager, said Weinrich still was looking into the report. She said the borough has a surveyor trying to find the location of the line mentioned in the report.

Wells said the surveyor and solicitor will have some findings by April 9. The borough council meets April 9 and will vote at that meeting on whether to appeal the judge's decision.

The Butler County judge has not approved the report yet, but Common Pleas Court President Judge Martin O'Brien must approve the report unless he can find an error of law.

Donald Aiken, chairman of Adams supervisors, said he could not comment on the situation because it could end up back in court.

Jim Taylor, attorney for the township, said the border commission's findings did not encourage any litigation that could not have been initiated independent of Viola's lawsuit.

'As the township grows, the location of the line becomes more important to municipalities and property owners,' he said. 'We're not looking at this as winning and losing. We are trying to establish some certainty.'

Some Seven Fields residents who might be affected are not aware of the border commission's findings and, therefore, are not worried. The people who are aware of the issue are passionate, though.

'This whole thing is ridiculous,' said Jennifer Westgren, a Forest Drive resident. 'Are we doing the right thing for our kids, fighting about these properties?'

The issue for some of the parents is keeping their children in Seneca Valley schools.

'My son is in fifth grade at Seneca,' said Kris Ovenshine, a Hillvue Drive resident. 'It's unnerving to think he could have to change schools.'

Some of those without children also want to remain Seven Fields residents.

'We have lived on this street since 1991. When it first started (Seven Fields) was going to lose little ground, and now it's mushroomed and (Seven Fields) could lose a whole street,' said Peggy Corbin, a Hillvue Drive resident. 'We like it here. We really do.'

Across the street, her neighbor agreed.

'I'm kind of hoping things will remain as they are,' Carol Kreider said. 'This is a nice community. People that chose to live here expected to stay in Seven Fields.'

Dominick DiRienzo can be reached at ddirienzo@tribweb.com or (724) 779-7124.

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