A decision made by Peters Township Council in May has created a source of confusion for administrators and public safety officials.
Council voted 4-3 against the municipality acquiring by eminent domain a small piece of private property for the purpose of building a street connection between two residential plans.
According to township manager Paul Lauer, the action runs counter to a long-standing policy that “residential developments should have multiple means of ingress and egress,” primarily to maximize emergency response times.
“And there are to be no dead-end streets. In fact, ‘no dead-end streets’ is actually incorporated into an ordinance,” Lauer said at council’s June 28 meeting. “So we’re not clear right now exactly what council is telling us with regard to these streets.”
The source of contention is Manor Way, which for decades has terminated in a cul-de-sac at the southern end of the Beacon Manor-Marella Manor neighborhood. Because only one street, Locust Drive, accesses the neighborhood, the intent was to connect Manor Way with the new Juniper Woods development, which in turn would provide a link with Thompsonville Road.
Jason and Sherri Snyder, who own the Manor Way property in question, fought the township’s intended acquisition of .033 of an acre, or about 1,500 square feet, plus .012 of an acre for a temporary construction easement.
During the meeting at which the vote was taken, Jason Snyder told council he obtained signatures from “every resident on my road” opposing the connection.
Locust Drive residents Michael and Gloria Stephan, though, said at the latest council meeting no one approached them about signing any such petition.
“I am absolutely in favor of the connector, and I was extremely disappointed that the vote somehow changed, that it was voted down,” Gloria Stephan said.
The street on which they live has a steep grade, and the Stephans agree with township public works director Joe Hurson a second access would provide more optimal conditions for plowing snow and mitigating wintertime hazards.
Hurson, in fact, told council during the past winter, a plow truck hit a utility pole in avoiding a “fishtailing vehicle” attempting to climb the Locust Drive hill.
Police Chief Doug Grimes also weighed in on the matter.
“When I first heard that the Manor extension was not going to be made, I was somewhat dumbfounded,” he said. “I had written a letter to council saying, these are the benefits from my perspective of this, from a public safety perspective in relation to law enforcement, at a minimum.”
He pointed out vehicles must travel from Peters Township into part of Upper St. Clair before returning to the Beacon-Marella neighborhood
“And in a medical emergency, or a police or fire emergency,” Grimes said, “that’s a lot of wasted time.”
Mike McLaughlin, Peters Township Fire Department chief, agreed.
“We live by our response times to communities and the number of people that we can get there and help quickly,” he said. “To stay ahead of this in every plan that gets built from here on out, it improves the service, I think, to the residents on both sides.”
For Lauer, planning director Ed Zuk and members of their staffs, a considerable amount of their time is spent “speaking to developers about what it is they need to do in terms of meeting the township’s requirements, and one of those discussions is always about the interconnection of plans,” Lauer said. “No developer wants to see plans interconnected. If they all had their druthers, there would be a whole series of cul-de-sacs and loop roads.
“I think we’re a little frustrated, because every one of these through the whole process, from when it starts, is only a source of confrontation between us, developers and residents,” he continued. “And when we get to the end of that process and we don’t follow through, I don’t know how to explain that to people.”
Council member Frank Kosir Jr., who voted in favor of the Manor Way land acquisition, requested the applicable ordinance and declaration of taking be revisited for further discussion and another vote.
“I think whenever there’s a chance to connect neighborhoods, we should be connecting them,” he said. “That should be a policy that’s not even up for debate.”