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Zoning board OKs appeals for proposed housing project

January 26, 2011

The Punxsutawney Zoning Commission gave approval to Jeff Long Construction, the new owner of the former Mary A. Wilson Elementary School, to convert the building into independent living apartments for seniors. (Photo by Larry McGuire/The Punxsutawney Spirit)

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Construction on the new Graystone Court-Punxsutawney could begin as soon as late spring, following approval from the Punxsutawney Zoning Commission regarding five appeals requested Tuesday by the project developer.

Tony Miller, senior project engineer for Stiffler McGraw Engineers of Hollidaysburg, presented a preview of the new apartment complex to be constructed at the site of the former Mary A. Wilson Elementary School, 407 East Mahoning St.

Miller said plans entail converting the former school into independent living apartments for seniors age 55 and older.

There will be a building extension — about 70 feet by 118 feet, eight stories high — to the rear of the existing structure, housing 73 apartment units, with sizes ranging from 550-square-feet to 1,200-square-feet.
That will include paved parking surrounding the building.

The building extension will include parking on the ground floor, with 18 individual parking garages — a total of 89 parking spaces, 71 outdoors and 18 indoors.

Miller said the parking lot will allow access to the levee, which is a part of the Mahoning Shadow Trail that runs along the Mahoning Creek.

Plans also call for maintaining the existing tree line along Tiona Street to keep a visual barrier for a certain amount of landscaping to meet the borough’s requirements, Miller said. The firm will also make repairs to the sidewalks that surround the building as necessary.

Miller said that the project includes tidying up around the site.

“We will be taking an existing vacant building and turning it into a structure that will fit well into the borough,” he said. “The existing building will include apartments as well, and the infrastructure of the boiler room will also be located in the existing building.”

Whatever area can be used for apartments will be used for apartments, Miller said.

In time, he said, the building would have become a dilapidated eyesore if it had not been purchased by Jeff S. Long Construction, which purchased the building and property from the Punxsutawney Area School District during a public auction last year.

“Over time, through the LERTA program, it will eventually come onto the tax rolls,” Miller said. “From what I understand, it hasn’t been on the tax rolls since the school was opened in 1949.”

Jeff S. Long Construction currently operates nine Graystone Court independent living apartment complexes across Blair, Bedford, Cambria and Clearfield counties. A location in Johnstown recently opened.

“Graystone Court is a good business model, and it fits in well in just about every community,” Miller said. “It’s something the seniors like: Being able to stay independent, but with their own apartment in an environment with other seniors, so the social opportunities work well for them, and the project just works.”

Miller said other structures are new buildings, and this is the first time there is a proposed extension on an existing building.

Originally, Long had submitted plans to supervisors to build a new Graytone Court in Young Township, but when the school building became available, he decided to go in that direction, Miller said.

“Whenever you put in a building like this, you need to have room for the parking and building,” he said, adding that the existing site is more than three acres, and there’s enough room to use the existing building, construct the building extension, create new parking areas and make the site work.

“So, sitting in the borough is a good idea; the site worked well as an apartment building,” Miller said.

There are still more hurdles to pass through before construction begins, such as submitting plans for land development to the Punxsutawney Borough Planning Commission and obtaining permits through DEP, the Jefferson County Conservation District and PennDOT.

“The first step was making sure that we got the zoning wavers we asked for in order to build the project the way it was conceptually designed,” Miller said.

The zoning commission approved the five appeals of the zoning regulations, which included:

• Reducing the planting strip from eight feet to 2.5 feet along a line of evergreen trees that will remain along Tiona Street.

Miller said that would put them up against the trees and allow them to have room to get to the parking stalls and have access around the building.

• Changing the parking stall dimensions from 20 feet long by 10 feet wide to 20 feet long by nine feet wide.

• Miller said the firm seeks to build the eight-story building of which the height would exceed the ordinance by only a minimal amount.

• The required front setback is 20 feet; the existing building is 7.7 feet from the right-of-way line.

The steps are only 1.9 feet away from the right-of-way line and are in violation by more than 18 feet.

The request is to remove the front steps, keep the porch and reconstruct planter boxes.

Miller also requested that the 20-foot setback requirement be waived to allow reconstruction work.

• Changing the requirements for floor space for apartments in a four-story or higher building from 1,400-square-feet per apartment, to 550 feet and 1,200-square- feet.

Also Tuesday:

• Michael Defelice requested a variance regarding the front and rear setbacks on 10 single-family homes that he intends to construct on the site of a former trailer park at 314 Martha St. located in a Residential 2 district.

Defelice said that he was requesting the variance so he could have options as far as constructing the homes if he wanted to add porches and garages.

He asked to move the back of the lot to 14 feet and 12 feet in the front.

The board unanimously approved Defelice’s variance request

Defelice said construction would begin as soon as possible, and that single family homes would be priced at about $80,000.

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