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Deer Creek mall tax deal in limbo

| Wednesday, April 17, 2002

PITTSBURGH: Allegheny County Council wants more legal advice before deciding whether to rescind a tax break for the proposed Deer Creek Crossing development in Harmar.

Council agreed Tuesday to send the measure back to committee instead of voting on removing the $24 million tax increment financing (TIF) package for developers of the proposed shopping center off Route 910.

Some council members fear the county could be the target of a lawsuit from developers if it rescinds the 3-year-old TIF agreement.

Councilman Tom Shumaker, R-Pine, asked one opponent of the tax deal if she could guarantee the county wouldn't get sued.

While there can be no guarantee, county lawyers will further research the prospect of a lawsuit from developers who previously counted on the TIF to help develop Deer Creek Crossing.

Those opponents, who have raised objections based on the tax break, environmental concerns and the effect of suburban sprawl, have argued the council likely could defend any lawsuit from the project's developers.

"This is not economic development for the county," said Ron Silber. "Blasting hillsides and filling in wetlands with concrete is not economic development."

Proponents of the development, who urged council to keep the TIF deal in place Tuesday, said it would help the Valley's economy.

Allegheny Valley School District Superintendent Ron Wasilak said the shopping center would create jobs and boost the tax base of the district. The school district and Harmar have approved the TIF deal and are not considering rescinding it.

District business manager Ron Zenone said the property tax revenue from the development would allow the district to cut taxes by 2 mills.

Board member Scott Redman said the project is popular within the district and county officials should not stand in its way.

"It will greatly enhance our ability to provide education and provide tax relief," Redman said. "I don't know anybody in our district who opposes this development. Everybody outside our district wants to tell us what to do."

But some Valley residents oppose the development, said Oakmont resident Melanie Pallone. Pallone, a Valley native, said she chose to stay there as an adult because the Valley doesn't have the congested shopping districts and suburban sprawl that the North Hills and other suburban areas do.

"It doesn't remind me of McKnight Road. It doesn't remind me of Route 51," she said. "I can say the average person in this region is not going to shop here at the expense of going to Monroeville or Ross Park Mall. There just aren't enough people to support it in this region."

Tax increment financing is a deal by which property taxes from the developer are used to improve infrastructure around the project. In this case, the money would pay to redesign the intersection of Route 28 and Route 910.

Representatives of the project's developer, Woodmont Orix, did not return calls for comment Monday or Tuesday.

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