Redevelopment panel looks north

WEIRTON – Stymied in their bid to extend the southern redevelopment district, the Weirton Redevelopment Authority on Tuesday signaled its intent to look northward – at least for now.

The authority’s members had hoped to persuade Brooke County officials to let them extend the southern district so heavy truck traffic could be rerouted onto an industrial access road they hoped to develop from Freedom Way to Cove Hill Road.

Commissioners, however, nixed the idea, saying they didn’t see a need to extend the district at the moment and suggesting development needs in that part of the county should be handled by the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle and Brooke County Economic Development Authority.

So at this week’s meeting, the authority decided for the time being to focus on the old post office property in their northern redevelopment district.

BDC Executive Director Pat Ford said the property, vacant for years, sits in a prime location very near the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and state Route 2 and would be well-suited to light manufacturing.

While the city already has picked up the tab for a property appraisal – about $1,500, though council had authorized up to $3,000 to get it done – Ford said they need a Phase I brownfield assessment in order to determine the site’s fair market value.

Phase I assessments, which typically cost in the $5,000 to $7,000 range, help identify the potential for site contaminants from previous uses. Legacy environmental issues can be costly to correct.

They’re hoping to persuade the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission to earmark grant money for the assessment. BHJ received $400,000 in brownfield assessment grant money – half of it earmarked for petroleum-related properties, the other half for general industrial assessments. But this late in the grant cycle, Ford said much of the money has been spent.

“There’s more projects than there is money,” he said, though adding that “it says a lot that the city put up money for the appraisal, because it is such a critical property.”

Ford said that in addition to its prime location, the building has high ceilings and a truck dock that make it “ideally situated” for light manufacturing. He also said he’s not worried that now that their interest in the property is public knowledge, another buyer might swoop in and buy the property if the assessment comes back clean

“If all we’ve done is create interest for someone else to buy it, then we’ve done our job,” he said. “Our end game is, either directly or indirectly, to build confidence and see investment or shared risk in development of the property.”

In other action, Ward 3 Councilman Fred Marsh asked the authority to consider extending the northern redevelopment district to the old Weir High stadium property and identify the costs involved in either amending the existing plan or drafting an all-new one.

The board of education had sold the old stadium to the Hancock County Commission, with the stipulation that it be used to create jobs and generate tax revenue.

The redevelopment authority, meanwhile, tabled action on a request from Weirton Area Port Authority for an intergovernmental agreement for transportation and communications infrastructure.

Mike Tipton, a WAPA lobbyist, said the agreement, which he said would identify areas of cooperation and coordination, was needed to “ensure planning is in parallel.” He said they’d be seeking a similar approval from Brooke County.

Tipton told the authority’s members the port is “mandated” to deal with transportation issues, prompting Marsh to question where that mandate came from and how WAPA’s authority could supercede that of BHJ, which is the governmentally recognized regional transportation planning agency.

“Mandated, that’s a strong word, ” Marsh said, pointing out that nowhere in the sheaf of information Tipton brought with him to the meeting was there anything saying WAPA had a transportation mandate.

“We need to kick this around, we may need to follow up” at a future meeting, Redevelopment Authority Chairman Mark Zatezalo said.

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