North Strabane mulls options for senior housing

Natalie Reid Miller
Observer Reporter

Plans for a North Strabane Township senior housing facility hit a snag, but developers are confident the project will move forward.

Presbyterian SeniorCare and Laurel Communities are working on plans for a 57-acre site on McDowell Lane near Canonsburg Lake, with seven acres dedicated to a four-story senior apartment complex and 50 acres dedicated to active senior housing with single-story carriage homes.

At its meeting last week, the township planning commission voted down a recommendation to approve adding the definition of “senior garden apartments” to the current zoning ordinance.

Jim Pieffer, Presbyterian SeniorCare senior vice president, said a request was made to allow senior garden apartments in the R-3 residential district site owned by the organization.

“We wanted to make a change in the ordinance itself, because it is not uncommon in other municipalities to have different requirements for senior (housing) versus traditional apartments, because the needs of seniors are a little different,” said Pieffer. “I think (township officials) were nervous about setting the precedent for senior housing only. Now, we’ll have to go back and see what options we have – if there’s another way to make this work.”

Frank R. Siffrinn, township manager, said the current height requirement for structures other than single-family dwellings is three stories, but no more than 45 feet. In an email Thursday, he said the objection by the planning commission was the proposed amendment only addressed senior garden apartments and no other dwelling type, which could legally be construed as discriminatory. “The developer, as a result, may be proposing an amendment that would address more than just senior living facilities. If so, said amendment will be reviewed and possibly considered by the township,” he said.

Siffrinn said Tuesday during the nonlegislative meeting the current ordinance has been in effect for more than 30 years.

“It is my opinion as zoning officer that the subject matter of height restrictions needs to be evaluated given current development trends and, in particular, the emphasis that is being shown by developers relative to a variety of senior living types in this area and throughout the country,” he said.

According to Pieffer, a recent market study revealed a need for senior housing in the area; the McDowell Lane site, close to Presbyterian SeniorCare in Washington, will provide a continuum of care for seniors.

“We’d like to move this development forward in the next year or so,” he said. “We really feel like we have a beautiful site on the lake. It just makes (it) a little trickier.”