North Strabane supervisors sign off on 245-unit housing plan

Gideon Bradshaw
Observer Reporter

North Strabane Township supervisors voted Monday to grant conditional-use approval for a proposed 245-unit housing plan intended for affluent buyers of retirement age.

The 4-0 vote came after two sessions – one late in November and the other earlier this month – when area residents voiced concerns about the plans of Traditions of America, a Philadelphia-based developer that specializes in housing for people 55 and over. Traditions’ representatives told township officials they intend to build the houses in six phases starting next year and continuing through the late 2020s.

Traditions plans to put the townhouses and other buildings that will make up the “active lifestyle community” on 200 acres between Brehm and Mansfield roads. The land is undeveloped, but in the R-2 residential zoning district of the township.

Anthony Asciolla, township planning coordinator, said one of the requirements that supervisors added to the approval is that the developer can only complete the first phase – which involves eight new dwellings near Brehm – before laying down the connector between that road and Mansfield intended to form the spine of the housing plan. The second phase, which is at the end by Mansfield, calls for 73 houses.

“Given the site-specific issues that this development has, the supervisors wanted to make that clear,” Asciolla said.

He said Supervisor Bob Ross was absent from the special meeting called to take the vote.

Another condition, which Asciolla said the board chose to place on the application at the behest of Supervisor Harold Close, recommends Traditions set aside $3,000 per new unit it builds to help pay for a new left-turn lane at the already-busy junction of Mansfield and Route 19, which is a few hundred feet from the site.

Asciolla said a township traffic study recommended the additional turning lane there, but a municipal government can’t legally require a developer to make off-site improvements as part of a project.

Traditions’ website said homes at its location in Cranberry Township, Butler County, start in the “upper” $300,000 range. In the plan the company is building in Cecil Township, homes start in the “lower” $300,000 range, Traditions’ website said.

The median home value in Washington County is about $170,000, according to the real estate-tracking website Zillow.

On Nov. 14, when supervisors’ held the first portion of their public hearing on the plans, many of those living near the site predicted the new development would cause problems from additional traffic and stormwater runoff.

Arthur Allen, who lives on Mansfield, called Traditions’ description of its plans “the best-presented load of bull” he heard despite his 50 years in sales. He said the project includes a retention pond that would be his new neighbor, and the new construction would cause water to flow onto his property.

“I’m going to catch all the water coming off the top of that hill,” Allen said.

Township officials initially closed the hearing, but reopened the matter to hear additional testimony Dec. 17 following a request from a resident who wished to address them about the proposal.

Traditions didn’t return a message left Friday at its Philadelphia office.

During the meeting in November, representatives stressed about two-thirds of the site area would remain open space. The number of housing units are less dense than permitted in the ordinance, township officials said.

Asciolla said Traditions still needs to meet additional procedural requirements before it can begin construction, including preliminary and final land-development and subdivision approvals. Because of the size of the project, the company must obtain permission from the state Department of Environmental Protection to follow its wastewater-management plan.

“This (conditional-use application) got approved,” Asciolla said, “and if the applicants agree to the conditions, this is not going to be shovels in the ground next month.”