Getting a development plan approved takes time and a lot of back and forth
ave you ever driven past a construction site in your neighborhood and wondered “What the heck, man? How did this happen?”
It happened after a lot of back and forth with Mt. Lebanon planners and other staff, multiple public meetings and careful plan review.
The big misconception is that if a developer is appearing before the planning board, the project is a done deal and there’s no point in making any public comments. Assistant Manager/Planner Ian McMeans says nothing could be further from the truth.
“That’s the exact time to get involved,” he says. “The first time in front of the planning board is the first in a series of, at a bare minimum, three public meetings before a project can be approved.”
Mt. Lebanon’s planning board meets monthly, and is charged with reviewing construction, development and redevelopment plans. The board also makes recommendations to the commission on planning and zoning matters.
Anything larger than one single-family home—a duplex or any multi-family home, along with subdivisions of two or more single-family homes—requires preliminary approval from the planning board and final approval from the Mt. Lebanon Commission.
Once the application is filed, the project is required to land on the agenda of the next planning board meeting.
“We’re constrained by the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code,” says McMeans. “We can’t just sit on
The appearance before the board is the first time the project is up for public discussion, but Mt. Lebanon municipal staff has already weighed in on the plan by then. Before that first planning board appearance, developers are required to schedule a pre-application conference with Mt. Lebanon’s land use group, which consists of McMeans, Municipal Manager Keith McGill, Chief Building Inspector Rodney Sarver and Dan Deiseroth, president of Gateway Engineers, the municipal engineering consultant. Occasionally a specific project may require input from other experts, most often Public Works Director Rudy Sukal and Commercial Districts Manager Eric Milliron.
The land use group works with the developer to determine the feasibility of the proposed project prior to an application being submitted. In addition to Mt. Lebanon and Gateway Engineers, the project is also reviewed by the Allegheny County Department of Economic Development. The developer comes away from all of this input with a list of issues that need to be addressed for the project to be considered for approval. It’s not until then that the project can be submitted to the planning board.
Once the developer is on the planning board schedule, Mt. Lebanon sends notifications to residents and property owners within a 200-foot radius of any proposed project. The municipality uses its geographic information system to calculate the impacted area. Other interested residents can be added to the list as well, and receive notifications of planning board meetings through the municipality’s LeboALERT system.
The developer receives a list of conditions needed for the project to be approved. When all of the conditions have been met, the planning board can grant preliminary approval. That may take more than one meeting. Complying with all the conditions often requires an alteration of the original plan.
“We have a high standard for preliminary approval,” McMeans says. “Lots of projects get tabled in order to address engineering and other planning comments.” If the board disapproves the plan, it must cite specific sections of the ordinances that the application does not meet.
All planning board applications are on file at the municipal building, and are available for viewing. McMeans says the application cannot be posted online, and copies cannot be made, because of intellectual property concerns about a project’s architectural and engineering features.
After the planning board is satisfied, the journey is not over. The board may recommend approval, but the final decision is up to the Mt. Lebanon Commission. The commission can either approve, approve with new conditions or disapprove of the plan. They must notify the developer of their decision within 15 days, and after notification the developer has 30 days to accept or reject any new conditions. The commission grants final approval in the form of a developer’s agreement, which requires the developer to post a cash bond to ensure the public and private improvements in the project.
“If for whatever reason the developer walks away [mid-project], the municipality has some recourse for improvements,” says McMeans.
Even after substantial completion of the project, Mt. Lebanon will keep the bond, refunding portions of it to the developer until all the work has been done. Often this comes down to smaller things, such as pervious-pavement infiltration tests and sidewalk installation.
Okay, so: pre-application meeting, multiple planning board meetings, commission approval complete with developer’s agreement. Good to go, yeah? Not quite, but getting there.
After the commission grants approval, the developer needs to secure all required construction permits, which requires a plan review with the Mt. Lebanon Inspection Office. The office has two inspectors who are certified in plan review. If a change in the plan would increase the footprint, the developer needs to run it past the planning board again.
So, the answer to the question “How did this happen?” is “it happened after a LOT of discussion.”
The Development Process
Taking a project from conception to completion in Mt. Lebanon involves a lot of back and forth with municipal staff.
Below is a list of ongoing, recently completed and pending development projects.
Briarwood Drive 11 single-family homes (and one additional home in Baldwin Township), with a total assessed value of $3.953 million, and real estate tax revenue of $17,179.
Summit Pointe 11 single-family homes, with an assessed value of $4.05 million. Real estate tax revenue of $17,817. At press time, one of the houses remained unsold.
Uptown Place Five single-family units on Washington Road. Construction is substantially completed and all five units have been sold. Projected assessed value of $2.5 million. Projected real estate tax revenue of $11,775.
Senior Apartments A 60-unit, age-restricted apartment building on Midland Avenue. Applications for residency are being handled through the Allegheny County Housing Authority. Projected assessed value is $4 million to $5.5 million, yielding a projected real estate tax increase of $18,000 to $25,000.
Beyond Self Storage Castle Shannon Boulevard 1.4-acre storage facility, completed in 2018. Projected assessed value of $5.4 million. Projected real estate tax revenue of $24,478.
St. Clair Ambulatory Care Center
A 5-acre project that involves reconfiguring the N. Wren Drive intersection, construction of a new ambulatory care center for outpatient services, offices, operating rooms and parking. Approved in 2018, with roadway realignment taking place then, and construction beginning in 2019 and continuing.
Pending Development Projects
400 Washington Condominium development was approved in 2016. Developer applied for, and was granted, a text amendment to the zoning code to permit townhouses in an R-7 zoning district. Developer has not yet filed a new plan for townhouses.
397 Old Gilkeson Townhouses or Apartments. Developers have met with property owner, but no applications have been filed yet.
2904 Castlegate A total of 51 units, mix of apartments and townhouses,will be all rental units. Application filed in June and appeared before the Planning Board in July.
700 Bower Hill Asbury Heights filed a site plan application to construct an additional parking lot for staff members.