South Hills Transit Project Any Closer?

Nearly six years ago the borough manager of Castle Shannon stated "it appears the developer [of a proposed transit village at the Shannon trolley lot] has finalized both site development and financing structure". Three years after that the former Governor of Pennsylvania released $4 million in redevelopment funds to the project. And this week Allegheny County Council expects to act on a resolution to join the borough and Keystone Oaks School District in a tax increment financing plan that would allow incremental tax revenues to be diverted from the development to pay for up-front financing help.

The project does have staying power. Consider that the adjacent municipality of Mt Lebanon flirted with TIF plans for both the Galleria Mall at for a site on Washington Road that would have been a mixed use development.

According to the resolution’s language the site is expected to include "construction and lease of residential apartments, commercial space, and community parking of the [trolley station]". The resolution is non-binding and only authorizes an appointee of the County to work in conjunction with representatives of the other two taxing bodies on the TIF plan.

The benefits are enumerated as such: stimulation of private investment, increases in property values, creation of employment opportunities, and improvement of surrounding properties. Of course, for the County and the other taxing bodies they are hoping that these benefits are in addition to what is already there and don’t result from activity shifting around or to the detriment of existing activity.

Light at the End of the Castle Shannon TOD Tunnel?

"I think were closer to making this happen than we ever were before". That is what the manager of Castle Shannon Borough said in March of 2006 in talking about the transit oriented development (TOD) planned for the Port Authority’s Castle Shannon stop. In March of 2009 the developer of the project said that "HUD has agreed to ‘fast track’ its review" of his request for public funding" for the $35 million mixed use development.

HUD must have agreed to fast track a lot of requests because the developer stated yesterday "the only money is from government programs like HUD, and there’s a long line." He could go a step further: it seems as though the only interest for placing high density development along the trolley line in the South Hills is coming from public agencies, because they are the ones handing out money for feasibility studies, and when there is "free" money there will be no shortage of takers.

So while Dormont and Mt. Lebanon continue to explore the possibility of getting development close to the stations (even though their own data shows population losses were greater in those areas of closer proximity to the stations) they should look at the living example that serves as a case study in their neighbor to the south.

While proponents of the Castle Shannon development point to jobs and activity that will be sure to locate there they have never acknowledged that the attraction to the site, should it ever come about, could come from people living in another nearby location or from jobs located in another location. It does not happen in a vacuum.