Indiana, PA - Indiana County

Despite setback, housing project to move forward

by SAM KUSIC skusic@indianagazette.net on December 05, 2013 10:49 AM

BLAIRSVILLE — The Blairsville Community Development Authority is looking to terminate its contract with the developer of its riverfront housing project, saying it can’t meet some of the key conditions in the agreement.

Leann Chaney, the authority’s executive director, said the move is more of a formality than anything — the deal all but ended when the borough learned it had been passed over for a state grant that would have aided the project. Winning the grant was a major condition of the agreement.

The grant would have been used to reimburse Pittsburgh-based Fourth River Development for the cost of discounting the sale price of the four houses it initially was to build along the Conemaugh River. Without the reimbursement for writing down the cost, the project wasn’t financially feasible, said Sally Flinn, one of the firm’s principals.

Her firm was prepared to discount the price of each of the single-family homes by about $50,000, which would have reduced the cost to between $150,000 and $175,000. The homes, she said, would have had three bedrooms and 2ᄑ bathrooms and around 2,000 square feet of living space.

She said her firm was prepared to move forward with construction and had financing in hand. She said the firm remains interested in the project.

The project is part of Blairsville’s overall economic revitalization program, though which it has spruced up the Market Street Diamond, replaced sidewalks and built a hiking and biking trail through town and along the river.

The housing project is intended to spur downtown business formation by attracting new residents through new-home construction. As originally envisioned, the project consists of the phased construction of 64 houses, duplexes and condominiums.

The housing is to be built on the sites of the former Vale Tech automotive trade school and the Conemaugh Terrace public housing project, both of which have been torn down to make way for the project.

Aside from picking up the tab for the demolition, the authority also was responsible for the subdivision planning, grading and extending utilities to the site under the agreement with Fourth River. The authority is moving ahead on those fronts, and has applied for a different state grant to help cover the cost of readying the site for construction.

Another condition of the agreement was that the authority was that the authority would be responsible for moving a sewage system pump station. BCDA President Jon Herby said that would be a highly expensive undertaking, one beyond the authority’s financial means.

The BCDA entered into the five-year development agreement in 2012. Since then, the board has almost entirely turned over. Herby was not on the board at the time, and had he been, he’s not so sure he would have agreed to the deal, he said.

Chaney said that, agreement or not, the authority isn’t ready to see construction start on the homes. When the time comes, it may solicit new development proposals or try to build the homes on its own, she said.

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