Southern Beltway plans forcing change for local businesses
Inconvenience has been a word associated with the long-discussed Southern Beltway project, which spans all the way back to the Pennsylvania Turnpike Organization, Extension and Toll Road Conversion Act of 1985.
More than 30 years and an estimated 310 property impacts later, the 13-mile portion of the project that will connect U.S. Route 22 to Interstate 79 in Cecil Township is finally taking shape.
Unfortunately for some business owners, it’s also taking a portion, if not all, of their property along with it.
The National Cemetery of the Alleghenies, Quicksilver Golf Club and Gardner Moving and Secure Storage are all going through the prospect of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission using their property.
“The big thing that land owners need to understand is that it’s a code-driven process,” said Turnpike Commission spokesman Carl DeFebo. “A business owner is treated very differently under the code than a residential owner. Even though there is no real requirement for us to find people comparable housing, businesses are on their own.”
After stagnating for many years, the beltway project was reignited through the state Act 89 Funding Plan that was signed into law Nov. 25, 2013, providing much-needed money for construction, which is planned to start at the end of this year.
That “code-driven process” is infringing on a portion of the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies, located in Cecil Township, where the acreage of the impact has yet to be determined and no tombstones will be directly affected.
Also, Quicksilver Golf Club in Robinson Township, Washington County, is looking at reconstructing its entire driving range, and Gardner Moving and Secure Storage must move its trucks and security gate temporarily in order for construction vehicles to park.
“We kept asking when this was going to happen,” said co-owner Mike Gardner, who purchased the South Fayette Township property in 1996 for the family business. “When we bought the property down here, everybody was saying that they were planning to build some kind of highway. I thought I would be dead by the time anything would happen with that.”
The consensus, though, is despite immediate dissatisfaction, the overall impacts of the highway will be beneficial.
“We’ve known about the Southern Beltway for about eight or nine years,” said Carl Pia, manager at Quicksilver Golf Club. “For the most part, they have been amicable and fair to us. We have to do the work ourselves to our driving range and hope that it will get done by next spring. It’s quite an inconvenience, but I think the road, itself, will be quite a boom for us because it will put two exits within a mile of our location. This will open up a whole new clientele.”
Two other businesses are not so fortunate.
Matt Giglotti, a South Fayette Township resident, is searching for a new place to call home for one of his indoor facilities, Southpointe Fieldhouse in Cecil Township. The building, off Cecil-Henderson Road and overlooking I-79, contains 45,000 square feet of field turf, a Power Train Sports Institute, and strength and speed training facilities.
His neighbor, Fairfield Landscaping, is doing the same following the inevitable “total take” of the property, with the hope of finding a new location nearby.
“They didn’t have any definite answers until the end of 2015,” Giglotti said. “It’s been frustrating, not knowing our future. We’ve been told to be out of here by the end of 2017. Here we are in mid-August and still haven’t agreed on any offers from the Turnpike Commission.”
Some of the main issues Giglotti faces are the time it takes to acquire land, and permit and zoning matters for the facility, which features the capabilities to host soccer, lacrosse, flag football, field hockey and baseball.
According to Giglotti, his first option was to bring a newly built facility to South Fayette’s Fairview Park, something about which the township and school district seemed to have opposing opinions.
“The township was very eager to get something like that,” he said. “We went and met with the school board, and they weren’t nearly as eager. I haven’t even heard back from the school district that they have refused our proposal. I’ve just heard it through second-and third-hand sources.”
Remaining in an optimal location is a top priority for Giglotti, who is planning to stay in Cecil Township as plans are progressing toward a destination close to the Hilton Garden Inn at Southpointe.
With location priority number one, he knows the significance of making a smooth conversion into the new building is a close second.
“Not missing a season is extremely important to us, so that is why we have been looking for land,” said Giglotti, who admits it’s nearly impossible to get into the facility during the winter. “We run about 18 to 20 hours a day during the winter months, and the first opening we have available might be around midnight. Hopefully, we can just transition into the new facility and open immediately. If we have to close down for a while, our clientele is going to go somewhere else, and will be difficult to get back.”
After visiting different facilities, Giglotti has plans to revamp the previous Southpointe Fieldhouse into something even more consumer-friendly based on what has worked and not worked since its opening in 2009.
“There are a number of economic and mobility reasons as to why this is happening,” DeFebo said about the beltway project. “One of the key reasons is enhancing mobility in the region. It will also create opportunities for economic and business development. It’s critical to understand that there is an economic importance in this process.”