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.

Towns Board the Transit Study Bus Again

Responding to a desire to spur high density development near transit stops, the state created legislation allowing for "Transit Revitalization Investment Districts", TRID for short, to encourage it. Soon after the South Hills communities of Mt. Lebanon and Dormont received funds via the County’s Redevelopment Authority (the authority received $225k under TRID) to analyze and study the potential for such development.

Among other things, the 2007 study showed that the towns had both lost population during the study period but that the losses were more pronounced in areas close to the transit stops. Hasn’t one of the long time arguments of transit advocates been that transit generates its own demand as people realize the benefits of being close to stations?

Apparently not dissuaded by what the first study said, now comes word that they are going back to the well once again for $200k ($150k for Mt. Lebanon, $50k for Dormont) to "fund preliminary engineering for development". The money for the study would come from the Community Infrastructure and Tourism Fund, an $80 million pot of money funded by gaming money and set aside for the County for the purpose of funding "construction, development, improvement, and maintenance of infrastructure projects" according to the Gaming law.

Was that what the Legislature intended when the money was set aside? With such broad language it is hard to say so. Now it is possible that close to $500k will have been spent to determine if such development is feasible. A quick look at the nearby Castle Shannon stop, where a developer has been trying for years to get a high density transit development done, could have saved some money.