state of communities

Jon Andreassi/Observer-Reporter

Peters Township Manager Paul Lauer speaks at Wednesday’s State of the Communities event. He was joined by, from left, North Strabane Township Manager Andy Walz, Bethel Park Mayor Jack Allen and Upper St. Clair Director of Planning and Community Development Adam Benigni.

Representatives from both sides of the Washington-Allegheny County border took part in a panel discussion Wednesday to provide updates on their communities.

Peters Township Chamber of Commerce hosted its “State of the Communities” event at Valley Brook Country Club. Paul Lauer, Peters Township manager; Andy Walz, North Strabane manager; Jack Allen, Bethel Park mayor, and Adam Benigni, Upper St. Clair director of planning and community development, sat on the panel.

Lauer opened his remarks with a plea to take an active interest in local government. He noted the disparity in turnout rates between federal and municipal elections.

“Which leads me to conclude that most people believe that their lives are most affected by what occurs at the federal level. The fact of the matter is, nothing is further from the truth,” Lauer said.

He added that many of the most impactful government services – such as police, fire and schools – are administered at the local level.

Lauer also touted the residential growth and development in Peters.

“The residential activity in Peters Township right now is at a level we have not seen in the last 20, 25 years. It’s not only the sale of existing residential homes – and they’re selling at prices that are kind of unprecedented in the township – it’s the amount of development that is in the works,” Lauer said.

Lauer recalled a conversation with Peters Planning Director Ed Zuk, who told Lauer that the township currently has more open lots for development than he has ever seen.

Walz described North Strabane in similar terms, saying the development over the past 20 years has been “remarkable.”

“I graduated from Trinity in 2002, and I remember North Strabane basically being a lot of farms ... and a sleepy little area once you left the Walmart area of South Strabane,” Walz said. “Boy, has that changed.”

According to Walz, there are about 2,000 homes in development in North Strabane.

Bethel Park and Upper St. Clair are on the other side of the spectrum, as both Allen and Benigni described their communities as having almost no land left to build upon.

“We’re 99% developed. So anything that we get would be from resale,” Allen said.

Moderator Michael Chaido, the interim president and CEO of Washington Financial Bank, asked the panelists how they have been able to use funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) and the American Rescue Plan (ARP).

Lauer explained the differences between the two programs, with the CARES money being more targeted toward projects that addressed issues surrounding COVID-19, while the ARP funding having fewer restrictions.

“The U.S. Department of the Treasury, I think wisely, decided that it would be impossible to be able to administer this within the criteria that was established, in general, for the American Rescue Plan,” Lauer said. “So what they said was if your municipality is receiving less than $10 million, regardless of whether you actually had a loss of revenue during the COVID period, they treated it as though you did.”

Because of this, Lauer said money was able to go toward projects that had less to do with COVID-19 and more to do with economic recovery.