WEIRTON - Site accessibility needs have three groups working together to get landholder approvals which could create jobs and enhance the Northern Panhandle economy while making their properties more valuable.
The Weirton Redevelopment Authority, Business Development Corporation of the Northern Panhandle and the Weirton Area Port Authority agreed Tuesday to do alignment studies.
"We all have properties now," BDC Executive Director Pat Ford said. "What we need is to increase access to them to increase the value of the properties and increase use of the properties."
Weirton Redevelopment Authority members John Greco, left, and Chairman Mark Zatezalo listen to Weirton Area Port Authority’s B.J. DeFelice discuss efforts to persuade lenders to help fund development in the port. -- Linda Harris
Ford said the BDC, which manages the state-owned Three Springs Drive Industrial Park, is interested in carving out a service road to the back side of the property, while WAPA's B.J. DeFelice wants expanded rail access in Half Moon Industrial Park and Redevelopment Authority Chairman Mark Zatezalo wants an industrial road that would route truck traffic away from populated areas in the downtown.
Zatezalo said working together would add weight to their collective efforts, a plus for state and federal decision makers. And after the meeting, he said he was encouraged that they'd found common ground.
"Three entities all on the same page, all with the same interest but they collide," he said, pointing out that in the Redevelopment Authority's case, increased oil and gas traffic makes having an industrial access road that keeps heavy trucks and flammable chemicals away from busy stretches of highway as much a question of safety as convenience.
"If you can take the trucks off the road, it makes (property) more valuable," Zatezalo said, adding, "It's almost an obligatory safety (function) to keep them off the road."
Four months ago the Redevelopment Authority had floated the idea of extending its southern redevelopment district to include the old Weirton Steel rail yards, which, in addition to getting heavy truck traffic out of high traffic areas, also would position Half Moon Industrial Park to take advantage of growth opportunities.
That truck route could take advantage of a road running parallel to the rail line all the way from Freedom Way to Cove Road. To secure the grant money they'd need to upgrade it to the standard needed to use it as a truck route.
However, the authority must first have access to the property, which would require extending the border of the southern development district to include the rail yard and a small area southeast of Harmon Creek. And for that to happen, they'll need permission from the Brooke and Hancock county commissions.
Zatezalo said it's a win-win, since the truck route would benefit business and industry in both Brooke and Hancock counties as well as in Weirton, potentially sparking job and revenue development in all three.
He stressed they are looking only to extend the development district, which requires the county commissions' approval, so that truck traffic can be rerouted.
"We're not looking to take property (away)," Zatezalo said. "But we'd like to include the rail yard and property down to the river in the southern redevelopment district, so when we go to redevelop the (area) it will do nothing but benefit Brooke and Hancock counties."
Board member John Greco described the access road as "one of the keys to starting the redevelopment of the City of Weirton," adding that working with the BDC and WAPA could tip the scales in their favor. "In the past, the left-hand didn't always know what the right hand was doing," he added.
Ford suggested asking Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission Executive Director John Brown to do alignment studies, which he characterized as "schematic plans," for them.
DeFelice, meanwhile, was at the meeting to update authority members on his hopes to secure funding for expanded rail access.
(Harris can be contacted at email@example.com)