Housing proposal near Old Mill in Fox Chapel drawing ire

October 6, 2018

Fox Chapel resident Mandy Steele O’Hara argues that storm water runoff along Old Mill Road in Fox Chapel will worsen if development is permitted in the area.

A public hearing on Oct. 15 will highlight the issue of storm water management in Fox Chapel, according to at least one resident who is fighting what she calls perilous and costly development.

Mandy Steele O’Hara is urging people to attend the 5:30 p.m. planning commission meeting to dissuade the board from recommending development near Old Mill Road.

Allison Park-based Hammock Beach Partners is proposing to build 11 single family homes along 19.8 acres north of Haverford Road and south of Millview Drive.

Homes in the Springfield plan would begin at $1 million. If approved, construction would begin in spring or summer.

O’Hara said construction would usurp the last historically significant area in the borough. It is a stretch between Squaw Run and Fairview that houses the remaining five estates from the original Fox Chapel.

“Old Mill is an incredibly inappropriate site for development, as it is perched on a ridge, on a Tier 1 water shed, balanced precariously on a road built into a cliff that often washes away in a big rain,” O’Hara said.

“If that site is developed and we get a very heavy rain, the road will wash out again and residents will have to pay for it.”

Worse, she said, the water will be diverted directly to Squaw Run which was decimated this summer’s heavy storms.

Steven Victor, the developer’s representative, refuted the notion that development along the ridgeline would overpower the storm system.

Developers have taken precautions that extend beyond what borough code requires, he said. Extensive storm water studies were conducted and engineers designed a system to significantly reduce the overall discharge of water from the proposed site, he said.

“We’ve enlarged our detention basin so we can hold back more water than what the code requires,” Victor said.

“Our discharge for a 100-year storm will be the equivalent of a two-year storm,” he said. “That’s the extent to which we are holding back the water.”

Engineers will share details of the storm water reduction proposal during the hearing. A council meeting follows at 6 p.m.

O’Hara enlisted a battalion of presenters to accompany her to the public hearing.

They include Roy Kraynyk, vice-president of land protection for Allegheny Land Trust and Larry Schweiger, past CEO of National Wildlife Federation, among others.

She said they will address the risk associated with building on the site, as well as the increase in intense rain events impacting the region.

Schweiger, president of environmental advocacy group Penn Future, said local governments have been using their rear-view mirrors to plan land uses.

“They must look forward to a world with changing weather conditions,” Schweiger said. “Ninety-three percent of the heat of climate pollution is going into our oceans and lakes causing enormous evaporative increases and greater flood risks. Planners in the East must anticipate a world with much more rainfall and look forward using predictive climate models rather than 100-year historical records.”

O’Hara warned that taxpayers will be left holding the bill if the “high-risk” site is developed. She said current zoning does not anticipate the recent changes in climate/precipitation.

She is pressing council to purchase the properties with tax dollars and grant money, and place them into the park system under historical designation as the land is the last sizeable forest in the borough, O’Hara said. And, because the properties border Riding Trail Park, the land would make a logical extension to the park system, she said.

“This idea has gained attention as a possible solution to storm water issues across the region and is being closely watched by municipalities across the state,” O’Hara said.

“The intense rain storms aren’t going to go away and out-of-the-box thinking by our local government is essential at this critical juncture,” she said.

The meetings will be in the municipal office, 401 Fox Chapel Road.

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