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Access street key to Cheswick firm's expansion

| Friday, May 23, 2008

An access easement from Spruce Street in Cheswick into a proposed parking lot for Millennia Technology Inc. may be a key to the company's expansion plans.

Representatives of Millennia, borough officials and residents of Spruce Street met Thursday to discuss the company's plans.

Millennia wants to build a 15,000-square-foot addition to its facility at 1105 Pittsburgh St., which is also the company's headquarters. The firm manufactures electronic circuit boards.

It wants to build over a private street, Elizabeth Street, which has homes located on it, into its current parking lot along Pittsburgh Street.

But company owner Michael D'Ambrosio has hurdles to clear.

Not the least of which is the residents' insistence on closing off a 15-foot-wide access easement from Spruce Street. The easement is about 150 to 200 feet into property the company plans to acquire for a parking lot behind its building.

"The people on Spruce Street are 100 percent opposed to any access whatsoever to Spruce Street." said Henry Kuczynski, a resident of the street for 50 years.

Millennia is planning to purchase property owned by the Mock family, which is two lots, one fronting Spruce and the other immediately behind it adjacent to the rear of the Millennia property. Both are zoned residential.

Borough Solicitor Tony Colangelo said, "The initial plan was to make the whole thing commercial but now the Millennia folks are proposing that they only make the back part commercial so then they could use it for parking. "The front part would remain residential, and ultimately, I think the Millennia people would sell that property because they are not landlords. They don't want to be landlords."

"It would remain residential, which would keep the entire character of Spruce Street a residential zone."

D'Ambrosio said he changed his plan from making the entire Mock property a parking lot all the way to Spruce Street at the suggestion of one of the residents.

A critical part of the plan that would allow that to happen is improving a present access from Pittsburgh Street to the back of Millennia's facility.

The present access is located at the downriver side of Millennia's facility through a small parking lot. It narrows into one lane between a hillside and Millennia's building.

D'Ambrosio wants to widen that access point by making another lane which would require the construction of a retaining wall.

"That is where the choke point is," D'Ambrosio said. "By building that wall and moving that choke point then we would be freely be able to access the back of the property,"

If that can be done, then traffic would come in and out of the facility by way of Pittsburgh Street, D'Ambrosio said. It's not ideal, he said, but he's willing to accommodate the neighbors.

Borough officials have offered to help by applying for grants to help with the wall construction and other costs, such as relocating utility lines.

Mayor Dan Carroll said the borough is waiting for Millennia to give the borough a cost estimate so it can apply for an economic development grant.

"That seems to be the linchpin for the whole project," Carroll said. "If we can get some money from the county and/or the state, this thing should move forward."

Company still wants easement

However, even though building the wall would eliminate the need for Millennia to have its main access connected to Spruce Street, D'Ambrosio said he wants to maintain a right to the easement.

Because the proposed entrance from Pittsburgh Street would basically be the only way in and out of the parking lot, he wants to keep the easement for use as an emergency exit onto Spruce.

"The neighbors would like to see that be completely residential and not have that little strip there at all," D'Ambrosio said. "Our point is to keep it as an emergency access in the event that there is a problem in the building and it prevents us from getting out of the property or if a fire truck has to come in and there is a problem with it getting around the back of the building."

He said the parking area would be fenced off from the residential lot, but there would be a locked gate that would only open into the lot. D'Ambrosio said the gate would be locked and he would give a key to fire department to be used in an emergency.

"I've lived here for 53 years and I've never seen an emergency in that facility," Kuczynski said of the property, which used to house the Allegheny Label Co. "There's a lot of ifs and buts about this situation, and that's why the people on Spruce Street are against this access."

"Nobody objects to the fact that he is there," Kuczynski said. "We've lived with it for 15 years. Why should he demand access to another street?

"Spruce Street is not a boulevard, it is not built to handle heavy traffic. It is built to handle local traffic."

Carroll said that Millennia's insurance carrier may require the company to have such an emergency access. He does not see it as an insurmountable problem.

D'Ambrosio said he wants the plan to work because he needs room for his business to grow.

If it doesn't, he said he would have no choice but to move the company.

"We're trying to work with them," Carroll said. "We don't want to see a fabulous business like that move. It provides jobs that pay well; you don't even know they are there. I think they are a vital block in our community. We're very small and we don't have a whole lot of industry going on."

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