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Ross officials mull obstacles involved in adding more sidewalks

Tony LaRussa
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A brick wall at the end of property along McKnight Road in Ross where a First National Bank branch and a Chick-fil-A are slated to be built demonstrates one of the difficulties the township is facing as it tries to require developers to include sidewalks in their projects. While the developer of this property is willing to build a sidewalk, it does not own the land on which the wall stands so it cannot connect to other nearby sidewalks.

William Faber usually spends an hour a day running errands and shopping for groceries and other necessities.

But getting around can be a dicey proposition.

“I don't own a car, so I have to walk to the places I need to go,” said Faber, 54, of Ross. “It's a little scary going down McKnight Road. There are sections where there's no room at all to walk. The other day a woman almost ran me over when she pulled onto the berm of the road to make a turn.”

Pedestrians who venture out along Ross' busy commercial corridors are likely to encounter plenty of obstacles: guide rails; steep hillsides that run to the edges of both sides of road; fire hydrants and utility poles; storm sewer grates and landscaping features such as bushes and beds of decorative rock.

Along some stretches, walkers have to choose between walking in lanes of traffic or tight-roping the curb to avoid walking in weeds, mud, snow and ice.

Township officials hope an ordinance being considered by the board of commissioners will begin to make it easier and safer for pedestrians to get around. To do that developers of new commercial and residential developments — and some existing businesses — will have to install sidewalks or pay into a fund so the township can build them.

But even before the measure becomes law, commissioners learned how challenging it might be to make Ross a more walkable community.

When LRC Development Co. came before the board recently seeking approval for its plan to split the former Baierl Kia vehicle dealership on McKnight Road into two lots for a bank and fast-food restaurant, whether or not they should build a sidewalk along the 400 foot property was the only concern raised by commissioners.

The company's initial plan called for them to build sidewalks. But in the final version, LRC opted to make a payment to the township in lieu of construction.

Several commissioners pushed for the company to go back to its original plan and put in the sidewalk.

“I'm strongly in favor of sidewalk there, especially because there are several hundred people who live right up McKnight Circle and there is an existing sidewalk that comes down,” said Commission President Jeremy Schaffer. “I anticipate that those people are going to want to patronize the two establishments that will be there.”

The site is across from the Ross Park Mall at the intersection of McKnight Circle, which leads into the Waldorf Park housing complex.

Commissioner Steve Korbel said he, too, wanted to see the sidewalk included in LRC's project.

“My view is that you have to start somewhere,” he said. “If we listen to the same argument that you and others have provided then all we'll end up with is a giant bowl of money to build sidewalks around the township. I'm in favor of you installing your own instead of putting the burden on the township to somehow install them at a later date.”

But LRC representative Gary Onesti said the company chose to make a payment to the township because there is no sidewalk on one side of the property in which to connect. On the other side of the property there is a decorative brick wall that would block connection to the sidewalk that leads into Waldorf Park.

The brick wall is not part of the property LRC is developing.

“I understand what you want — sidewalks,” Onesti said. “If you want me to build it, I will build it. But where's it going to go?”

The payment in lieu of construction is $80 a foot, said Nick Rickert, Ross' director of community development.

Money that goes into the fund can only be used by the township to build sidewalks, walking trails or bike lanes.

Rickert said the township can request a developer build sidewalks into their projects or make a payment to the municipality.

If the ordinance is approved, constructing sidewalks will be mandatory, according to Rickert.

A business only will be able to make a payment in lieu of construction if it can demonstrate that constructing a sidewalk would be a hardship because of a property's topography or some other valid reason.

Commissioner David Mikec said while he agrees with the benefits of having more sidewalks built, the board should not require LRC to include one in its project since the township gave the company a choice.

“It's a great starting point for the sidewalks, but that's not what was presented to them (LRC),” Mikec said. “We gave them two options and they are choosing one. That's the only reason I have to vote no for this.”

Mikec was joined by Commissioners Lana Mazur, Rick Avon, Pat Mullin and Jack Betkowski in the vote to allow LRC to make a payment in lieu of constructing a sidewalk. Shaffer and Commissioner Grace Stanko voted against the measure. Commissioner Daniel DeMarco was absent from the meeting.

The board then voted unanimously to approve the site plan for the property, which will be split to make room for a First National Bank branch and a Chick-fil-A restaurant.

Tony LaRussa is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-772-6368 or [email protected].

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