Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Zoning Hearing Board Releases Its Findings on High School Project

The Zoning Hearing Board has released its findings about the zoning variances that the School District had requested for the high-school project. At 8 pages, it’s worth a read.

The short story is that the variances were denied because the School District was unable to present a compelling case for them.

Part of the School District’s problem seems to have been a lack of preparedness. “When asked about the square footage of the existing building and structures that contributed to the overall lot coverage, neither the Appellant nor its Consultants provided any clear response to the Board,” wrote the Zoning Hearing Board.

Another part of the problem was that the School District was not convincing in its argument that it had made reasonable efforts to comply with zoning code. The Zoning Hearing Board wrote, “The [School] District provided testimony that other options were investigated and that the proposed design was the sole option to meet the educational needs of the [School] District. Despite that testimony, no other options were presented to the [Zoning Hearing] Board to support this position or to prove, as required by the Ordinance, that the Subject Property could not be developed without the variances.”

Additionally, the Zoning Hearing Board rejected the School District’s (novel) argument that the variances should be allowed because the planned reconstruction made the property less nonconforming: “In the simplest terms, Appellant seeks to take an existing nonconforming building..., tear down a portion of it, and rebuild a new building elsewhere on its property. While the net effect may be slightly less lot coverage than the existing configuration, it will still be in excess of the maximum permitted coverage because of the creation of a new building, regardless of the repair, renovation, or modernization of that portion of the existing nonconforming building which remains.” (Emphasis original.)

In light of the findings, what seems mysterious is not that the requested variances were denied but that the School District ever thought it was going to get them. If you’re going to ask for variances, you had best be able to show that you tried in good faith to get along without them first. If the School District couldn’t make that case, they had to know, going into the hearing, that the Zoning Hearing Board would be unable to overlook the failure. Did it really come as a surprise, then, that the variances were denied?

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Blogger Dave Franklin said...

I think the SB should be quick to ask Celli to front some or all of the cost of this battle as it goes forward . . . and it will. I can see it now, Mt. Lebanon School District vs. The Municipality of Mt. Lebanon. More good PR for Lebo.

April 27, 2010 12:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this, Tom and Joe. Do ya think "Real" Lebo would ever admit to this? Nah, I didn't think so either. If we want facts, we come here, as always. And the school board just keeps pushing that bad plan that doesn't work on so many levels. Dave, you're right. Celli should be held accountable for this mess. Here is an idea. Maybe he should come up with a new plan that works and fits our budget.
Elaine Gillen

April 27, 2010 9:36 PM  
Blogger Dave Franklin said...

I received an email yesterday from Voice telling me that the new $113 million school will only cost me about $20 a month more in taxes.

Since their website did not have a place for comments or questions, I'll ask mine here: What increase can I expect to see in my taxes as the result of the teacher's contract, the pension shortfall, increases in programming expenditures and routine cost increases over the next 3-4 years?

I appreciate that it sounds nice to extract and promote that portion of the tax increase attributable solely to the school. No one debate that such a small amount of $$ is a relative no-brainer. Unfortunately, it misses the much larger point. Specifically, it ignores the point that many have made before - what can we expect in ACROSS THE BOARD INCREASES? And in the face of those increasing expenses, shouldn't we be trying to curtail controllable costs?

Please, no need to respond here if you're not from Voice etc., as I'm not looking for more of the same debate from golfks who are opposed to the project. Instead, I'm looking for someone on the $18/month side to give me the "rest of the story" as they see it. Thanks.

April 28, 2010 9:42 AM  
Anonymous David Brown said...

What is their URL?

April 28, 2010 6:36 PM  
Blogger Joe Polk said...

David Brown -- VOICE'S web site is www.voiceofmtlebanon.org. Concerned Citizens of Mt. Lebanon's web site is www.lebocitizens.com.

April 29, 2010 12:34 AM  
Anonymous Bob Reich, Jr. said...

Not that it matters, because as everyone knows if we, God willing, sell our home we're out of here. But this geek who grew up squarely on the middle-class tracks in Warren, Ohio wouldn't be against the high school Taj Mahal renovation if my home were assessed at around 100K either.
I certainly would be for it if I were a renter here, too. My kids would be getting the same product at half (to none) of the cost. What's not to love?

It is the inherent unfairness of the way our school systems are funded. And don't forget that every property in Allegheny County is going to have a new assessment by the end of 2012. The base year numbers from 2002 will be gone. Is the school board going to adjust the millage rate downward to take into account the new, and likely more realistic, value of your home? Doubtful. For example, there is a current notable former school board member selling his house for 1.3MM dollars now. It's assessed at around 400K. Now THERE'S a future homeowner that's in for a surprise!

April 29, 2010 9:17 AM  
Blogger Dave Franklin said...

Bob, a lot of the big school advocates have homes that remain shockingly under assessed when compared to their fair market values. Sure, it's not their fault, but I can't wait to hear their "voices" when their taxes go up 10% a year and then a reassessment hits.

April 29, 2010 10:25 AM  
Anonymous Bob Reich, Jr. said...

302 homes for sale on the MLS. Throw in FSBO's like ours and my guess is that there are closer to 350 homes for sale in Mt. Lebo. We, of course, are still speaking with our realtor and will use her if we have no luck. She tells us that there is a huge inventory of homes in the 400-800K range at the present time. I am curious to know how the 350 home number ranks historically to past Spring "selling seasons". Is it par for the course or has the great Mt. Lebanon sell-off begun?

April 29, 2010 10:51 PM  
Blogger Dave Franklin said...

300 (give or take) seems to be the norm every time this topic has come up before. However, I agree with your agent that there is significant inventory in the higher price range - just take a drive through Va. Manor. In fact, if you check out the Howard Hanna website you'll find a few more homes for sale in Va. Manor that don't have signs in the yard. I think its fair to say that a lot of empty nesters would be happy to unload their under assessed $750,000 home before the increases really hit.

April 30, 2010 4:33 AM  

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