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Roddey promised $2 million for O'Hara riverfront development

Tawnya Panizzi
| Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2003

O'HARA: Allegheny County Executive Jim Roddey on Tuesday pledged a $2 million loan to a riverfront housing development that he said will create jobs and spur regional growth.

"This is an economic development project, not a housing project," Roddey said of Chapel Harbor at the Water, a $65 million complex under construction along the Allegheny River.

Spearheaded by township-based developer Gene Zambrano, the new community will stretch 42 acres and run parallel to Old Freeport Road across from The Waterworks mall.

The partnership with EQA Landmark Communities is expected to include a 44,000-square-foot office building, 113 townhouse units, 52-single family homes and a 140-unit independent living facility operated by UPMC.

Later phases of the project will include a 52-unit condominium.

"To create jobs here, people want to live in areas they can enjoy," Roddey said during Tuesday's groundbreaking. "The industrial heritage of our region demands a creative approach to enhancing our natural resources without losing the character of our neighborhoods."

Chapel Harbor, Roddey said, accomplishes both.

It was three years ago that Zambrano conceived the idea for the mixed-use development that eventually will house as many as 1,000 residents and divert riverfront use from that of traditional heavy industry.

But a key obstacle -- access to the site -- kept the project in limbo.

The main entrance to the area intersects an unlit, at-grade railroad crossing that was considered too high a liability for the projected seven-fold increase in traffic. Zambrano negotiated for almost three years with Norfolk Southern Railroad officials to develop plans for a two-lane underground tunnel to be used by residents and commercial traffic, eliminating the traffic hazard at the crossing.

Foundation work for the tunnel already is under way. Sounds of heavy machinery almost drowned out the groundbreaking celebration where Zambrano and his partners donned construction hats for the ceremonial dig. Construction of the actual tunnel will begin Oct. 27 and last 13 days, during which time Norfolk Southern agreed to divert the route of about 20 trains that pass there each day.

Construction of the UPMC Senior Living Community also is under way, and is expected to be complete by September. The office complex will follow, with completion tentatively set for December 2004.

Rick Sobehart, president of the health care program that serves 3,000 senior citizens countywide, said he was attracted to the location because of its proximity to UPMC St. Margaret. He touted the project as the first planned multi-generational development in the county.

Local officials had other reasons to support for the project.

Chapel Harbor at the Water is expected to boost the tax base in O'Hara by 20 percent, according to O'Hara Council President Marshall Treblow.

The project is the final piece of riverfront construction planned for the township.

Since 1998, O'Hara Council has approved $150 million in work to make the river more accessible to residents. Amenities will include a wetlands trail, overlook pier and a mile of waterfront walkways.

It is the first stretch of riverfront property in Allegheny County to be developed for home ownership outside of the City of Pittsburgh.

Zambrano said the site will model a traditional neighborhood, with porch-lined streets and rear-facing garages. There will be a series of sidewalks and parklets to give the neighborhood a small-town flavor, he said. Construction is expected to take three years.

The county loan, which will be used toward infrastructure costs, was significant because public funding typically is awarded to upgrade distressed or abandoned environmental sites, Zambrano said.

"The loan is a great strength to help build public amenities to be used by residents and guests," he said. "It's been a long-time coming. I'm glad to finally be standing here."

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