Fay-Penn to respond
Georges Township Homeowners Tackle Fayette Rezoning
Sept. 17, 1999
Georges Township residents appeal rezoning decision
By Amy Zalar
Herald-Standard Staff Writer
A group of Georges Township residents asserted that the two Fayette County commissioners who voted to rezone a piece of property owned by Fay-Penn Economic Development Council had a conflict of interest because they serve on the agency's board of directors.
In a lengthy hearing Wednesday before the Fayette County Zoning Hearing Board regarding the appeal of a decision to rezone about 20 acres, the petitioners presented numerous objections to the rezoning, including an assertion that one of the county commissioners did not make an unbiased decision because members of the Fay-Penn board gave money to his election campaign.
The $650 appeal was filed by Thomas J. Maust, Leonard Mangold, Carol Maust and Robert Maust, who live along Burgess Field Road.
Ida Robbins said the rezoning was arbitrary and unreasonable and ``granted solely because of what one group wanted.'' The property was rezoned from A-1, agricultural rural to M-2 heavy industrial use. The property is located in the vicinity of Chadville. The two parcels of property were purchased separately by Fay-Penn from John and Julie Hildock, and Frank S. and Paulmena Pizzurro and USX Corp. It is part of a larger plot of land that was included in the county's Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ), which contains 2,600 acres throughout Fayette County.
Robbins said the road, which is 16 feet 9 inches across, is not equipped for industrial equipment. She said they are fighting to preserve the natural beauty of the community.
The rezoning request was approved with a vote of 2-1 by the Fayette County commissioners on June 24 and had earlier been recommended by the Fayette County Planning Commission. Commissioners Vincent A. Vicites and Harry E. Albert voted for the rezoning and Sean M. Cavanagh voted against it.
Included in the motion was a stipulation that 2.17 acres will serve as a buffer zone, which is a 50 foot extension of the 150 feet required by setback requirements. All three of the commissioners testified during the hearing Wednesday.
Vicities and Albert are currently members of the Fay-Penn board of directors, but are not paid for those positions. A total of nine elected officials serve on board.
Albert said he suggested that additional 50-foot buffer zone because he was trying to help the residents.
``Every decision I make pleases some and disappoints others. I was trying to be helpful,'' he said. Albert said the property is bordered on one full side by a railroad and he makes decisions for the county as a whole.
Vicites said he came to a conclusion as to what was in the best interest of all of Fayette County. In response to a question about being the Fay-Penn commissioner, Vicites said, ``I work with Fay-Penn, I don't work for them.''
Vicites said he gets hundreds of contributions from all across the county and a small percentage are from Fay-Penn board members.
The petitioners presented into evidence paperwork that includes a listing of the Fay-Penn board of directors and Vicites campaign expense reports from 1998 and 1999. Marian Chambers, who is a zoning board member, asked to abstain from the decision to put the information into evidence because she herself contributed $100 to Vicites' campaign. The attorney for Fay-Penn, Ira B. Coldren Jr., who also contributed $100 to Vicites campaign, objected to inclusion of the report into the record.
Several of the board members, including James Gabriel and Frank Ricco contributed to Vicites campaign.
Cavanagh said he was against the rezoning because it is primarily a residential area that is clean, pristine and quiet.
``It's a neighborhood community. This is a residential area at the foot of a mountain,'' he said. ``I firmly believe with my heart and soul it is not a proper place to put heavy industrial.''
Fay-Penn employee Lori Omatick said the property that was rezoned lies in Georges and South Union townships. The South Union area is zoned M, manufacturing. She said the KOZ designation was a one-time deal and the sites had to be selected quickly. There are 11 different sites across the county included in the KOZ.
She said the site does not currently have sewage, but a line most likely would be extended. Omatick reported that a Phase One Environmental study of the property was done by Fayette Engineering. Russell B. Mechling Jr., owner of Fayette Engineering, is treasurer of Fay-Penn.
In response to a question from Chambers, Omatick said she believes Fayette Engineering is also the township engineer.
``We were reasonably sure we could develop the site,'' Omatic said. She said the railroad made it attractive for development.
Michael J. Krajovic, vice president of Fay-Penn, said the organization is trying to create jobs for the residents of Fayette County. He said the property is conducive for development. Krajovic noted that Fay-Penn will include 10 items in deed restrictions of businesses that will not be prohibited. He said the agency wants to be a good neighbor and believes the property values will go up as a result of the development.
``We want to see high quality manufacturing,'' he said. He said there are a shortage of rail sites.
Krajovic said improved roads, water and sewage will usually accompany developments. He said if Fay-Penn only selected sites where a sewage system was already in place, there would be nowhere to go in the county.
Alesia Maust said the decision was a ``mistake from the beginning'' and an industrial business shouldn't be located in close proximity to a community. She asked how anyone can get a fair and impartial decision if the decision makers sit on the Fay-Penn board of directors. She said county commissioners should not sit on a board such as Fay-Penn.
``People can't get a fair decision,'' she said.
Arlene Curstead said her brick home was built in the early 1800s and her home means everything to her.
``I live on memories. I don't want the memory of Fay-Penn putting something out there I don't want,'' she said.
The board has 45 days to rule on the issue.
Truth On-Line alerts :more to come
Fay-Penn to respond to commissioners' request
JULY 28, 1999
By Paul Sunyak
Herald-Standard Staff Writer
Fay-Penn Economic Development Council is preparing a ``very prompt and thorough response'' to a written request from two county commissioners asking the agency to address alleged conflicts of interest within its organization.
Commissioners Sean M. Cavanagh and Vincent A. Vicites made the request of Fay-Penn President Robert E. Eberly on Friday, asking the noted philanthropist to ``clear the air'' regarding board members receiving contracts for professional services and construction projects, and selling land to Fay-Penn.
``I think it's a fantastic opportunity for us to set the record straight,'' said Michael W. Krajovic, Fay-Penn's executive vice president.
Krajovic did not elaborate on what mechanism Fay-Penn would use to issue its response or when it will happen; however, he hinted strongly that the matter was being taken seriously and a well-thought-out response would be forthcoming soon.
``We want to get to it as soon as we can,'' said Krajovic. ``We're just looking at the (commissioners') request.''
Republican Commissioner Harry E. Albert III, who did not have time to sign the letter before it was shipped to Fay-Penn Friday, said Monday he would not have affixed his signature anyway.
``Absolutely not,'' said Albert. ``I think Fay-Penn's doing a good job. If we didn't have them, no one would be doing economic development.
``If we didn't have (Fay-Penn), as a county we wouldn't be able to afford economic development.''
Albert, who was not available when Vicites and Cavanagh signed the letter, said Vicites told him he wouldn't have had time to sign it anyway, ``because the minute I signed it, it was faxed out.''
Cavanagh said he's the one who carried out that action.
Fay-Penn is a private, nonprofit corporation designated as the county's lead economic development agency. Its critics have accused the agency of ineffectiveness, of being secretive in its decision-making and of being political, despite fostering an image to the contrary.
One Georges Township resident upset with a controversial rezoning, Alesia Maust, has publicly called for an investigation of Fay-Penn, particularly as concerns its business relationships with some board members.
However, Krajovic and Fay-Penn's supporters have said the agency has done a good job with limited resources. They often point to the county's lowered unemployment rate and several large jobs projects that have already been completed or are in the pipeline as evidence of the agency's positive impact.
Vicites could not be reached for comment Tuesday on why he signed the letter sent to Eberly.
Cavanagh said he signed the letter in response to citizens' legitimate concerns over how Fay-Penn conducts business, as those areas have long concerned him as well.
He said his sources have told him Fay-Penn plans to conduct a press conference or other formal media event to respond to its critics, a move Cavanagh characterized as ``damage control'' now that pressure is on.
``I think they should all stop pretending to be goody-two-shoes over there,'' said Cavanagh of Fay-Penn. ``They are a powerful, elite group of people who are trying to control the county.
``There's no doubt in my mind Fay-Penn is trying to control the county. ...We're looking at a marriage of economic development, philanthropy and the domination of local politics,'' said Cavanagh.
Cavanagh said Fay-Penn and Eberly realize that ``the county commissioners' office is key, because of the board appointments that control millions of dollars of government funding.''
That realization, said Cavanagh, is why he thinks Eberly has publicly and financially backed three other candidates for commissioner, Republicans Richard Brown and William ``Bill'' Middleton, and Democrat Ronald Nehls, who is a former Fay-Penn employee.
Vicites, Cavanagh join forces in hunt for data on conflict-of-interest allegations
By Paul Sunyak
Herald-Standard Staff Writer
Fay-Penn's supporters pen letter-to-ed Bonus: Analysis of many interesting signatures
July 25, 1999
In an unprecedented move, Fayette County Commissioners Vincent A. Vicites and Sean M. Cavanagh have asked Robert E. Eberly, president of Fay-Penn Economic Development Council, to address charges of conflicts of interest within his organization.
Fay-Penn serves as the county’s lead economic development agency. Although it receives considerable state and federal funding, Fay-Penn operates as a private, non-profit corporation.
In a letter addressed to Eberly, Vicites and Cavanagh wrote:
"It was brought to our attention that there are conflicts of interest at Fay-Penn with particular board members receiving contracts, professional services, construction projects and with board members selling land to Fay-Penn.
"This was brought to our attention at a commissioners’ meeting and we request a response from your organization to these allegations to clear the air."
Commissioner Harry E. Albert III had not signed the letter as of noon Friday.
At Thursday’s commission meeting, Georges Township resident Alesia Maust called for an investigation of Fay-Penn’s business practices as they pertain to possible conflicts of interest with its board members.
Specifically, Maust asked for a public accounting of how many Fay-Penn board members owned land that was placed into the tax-free Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ) drawn up by Fay-Penn.
The KOZ covers approximately 2,600 acres in the county, all of which are tax-free for the next 12 years as an inducement for business development.
Fay-Penn board treasurer Russell B. Mechling, Jr. is co-owner of approximately 38 acres of land in Dunbar and North Union townships that was placed in the KOZ.
Mechling and his partners received no payment for the land from Fay-Penn, but they hold a $629,000 mortgage on the property.
Any of the property not sold by Fay-Penn in the next 12 years will revert to Mechling and his partners at the end of the life of the KOZ; in the interim, Fay-Penn technically holds title to the land.
Mechling said he was approached by Fay-Penn executive vice president Michael W. Krajovic about putting his land in the KOZ.
Mechling said Krajovic had the property appraised and added there was nothing "underhanded" about the way the deal was transacted.
At Thursday’s meeting, Cavanagh said, "Let’s face it: Fay-Penn is a private, nonprofit corporation, but it does receive state and federal funds. We should ask Mr. Krajovic if there are any board members who have sold property to Fay-Penn."
Cavanagh said he also thinks the public should be made aware if board members are benefiting from contracts awarded by Fay-Penn.
Regarding possible conflicts of interest with Fay-Penn’s board, Vicites said, "I would not tolerate anything like that."
Earlier this year, Eberly called for the replacement of all three incumbent commissioners, saying their behavior had led to a circus atmosphere which had harmed the county’s image.
Eberly, a Republican, has publicly and financially backed Democrat Ronald Nehls and Republicans Richard Brown and William "Bill" Middleton for commissioner.
Fay-Penn’s board of directors, including the politically powerful duo of Eberly and former commission chairman Fred L. Lebder, recently ran a full-page newspaper advertisement defending Fay-Penn against its critics.
It is unknown who paid for that advertisement, but independent commissioner candidate David A. Lohr said if tax dollars were used, Fay-Penn could lose its nonprofit status for dabbling in politics.
Cavanagh and Lohr said they believe the advertisement was partially aimed at them, since they each have raised questions about Fay-Penn during the past four years.
Georges Twp. woman seeks Fay-Penn probe
JULY 23, 1999
By Paul Sunyak
Herald-Standard Staff Writer
Burgess Field Road resident Alesia Maust called Thursday for an "investigation" into the business practices of Fay-Penn Economic Development Corp., particularly concerning how land was selected for the county's tax-free Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ).
KOZ Details :Links to more info
Saying she and her neighbors are "going to war" to overturn a Fay-Penn-supported rezoning near their homes, Maust also said she wants the probe to focus on Fay-Penn's awarding of contracts.
Regarding the KOZ, Maust said she wants to know "how much land Russ Mechling and other board members had that is now in the KOZ."
Mechling is the longtime treasurer of the Fay-Penn board. He is also owner of Fayette Engineering Co.
According to information supplied by Fay-Penn at the December 1998 meeting in which the county commissioners voted unanimously to support the KOZ, two tracts owned by "Moyer-Mechling" are included in the KOZ.
Those tracts were listed as 5.86 acres in Dunbar Township and 37 acres in North Union township. The tracts, part of a larger parcel which traverses the township line, are located in the Mount Bradock Road area of ROUTE 119.
The assessed value of the smaller parcel is $310 and the assessed value of the larger parcel is $2,704. However, it is likely those values are seriously outdated.
Records on file in the Fayette County Recorder of Deeds office show that on Jan. 22, 1999, Fay-Penn paid nothing up front to acquire the two properties from William E. Moyer, Francis F. Moyer and James K. Moyer, all of North Union township; and Russell B. Mechling Jr. and his wife, Sheila, of Uniontown.
However, Fay-Penn is carrying a $629,000 mortgage on the property, payable to the former owners if the land is sold in the future.
According to the mortgage terms, the mortgage will be satisfied when Fay-Penn pays the aforementioned sum and when it meets other conditions laid out by the mortgage.
Another clause in the mortgage reads, "Mortgager (Fay-Penn) agrees not to transfer title to the mortgaged premises unless the mortgagee (Moyer/Mechling) consents in writing to such a transfer."
The mortgage is signed by Fay-Penn president Robert E. Eberly.
Contacted after the meeting, Russell Mechling Jr. said he was approached by Michael W. Krajovic, Fay-Penn executive vice president, about including the land in the KOZ.
Mechling said he and Moyer bought about 50 acres in the late 1960s and subsequently sold one tract, on which the West Virginia Career College now sits.
"Mike Krajovic wanted us to sell the rest of it to Fay-Penn. We refused," said Mechling. "Mike came around when he was trying to put together property for the KOZ and asked us if we could list our property. He (Krajovic) had it appraised and gave us the appraised value of it."
Although they subsequently agreed to put about 38 acres in Fay-Penn's hands for the KOZ, Mechling said he and his partners "have not received a nickel from Fay-Penn" and will not receive any compensation for the land "until the property is sold."
If all or part of the property is not sold within the 12-year life of the tax-free KOZ, Mechling said, the unsold portion will revert to him and his partners.
"I don't feel I've done anything wrong or underhanded," said Mechling.
Group of irate residents appeals rezoning decision
By Paul Sunyak
Herald-Standard Staff Writer
July 23, 1999
A group of irate residents living in the Burgess Field Road area of Georges Township has appealed a rezoning of about 20 acres of land as requested by Fay-Penn Economic Development Corp.
Four of those residents — Thomas J. Maust, Leonard Mangold, Carol Maust and Robert Maust — have formally asked the county's zoning hearing board (ZHB) to overturn the decision.
The county commissioners recently voted 2-1 to change the zoning to heavy industrial, over the seemingly unanimous objection of neighbors.
Commissioners Vincent A. Vicites and Harry E. Albert III voted in favor, saying they favor positioning the county for maximum job creation.
Commissioner Sean M. Cavanagh voted against, saying Fay-Penn has plenty of other vacant land in the county's 2,600-acre, tax-free Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ).
At Thursday's commission meeting, several residents and their supporters from elsewhere in the county slammed Fay-Penn for what they portrayed as an arrogant, uncaring attitude.
Carole Maust, who lives near the rezoned land, took issue with a full-page Sunday newspaper advertisement signed by Fay-Penn's board of directors, particularly its use of the the word "ethical" to describe the agency's way of doing business.
Maust said she, as an adjoining property owner, was never contacted about the proposed rezoning as required. ``Is this ethical?'' she asked.
Vicites said notification of adjoining property owners is the responsibility of the county's Office of Community and Economic Development, not Fay-Penn.
Maust also took issue with the advertisement's statement that critics of Fay-Penn are simply blowing ``hot air'' and have done nothing themselves to foster economic development in the county.
``Please tell me who's blowing the hot air? It's Fay-Penn,'' said Maust, referring to the organization's description of itself and its way of conducting business.
Michael W. Krajovic, executive vice president of Fay-Penn, could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Geraldtine T. ``Jerry'' Mazza of Franklin Township, who does not live near the site, also zeroed in on the newspaper advertisement, asking, ``Who paid for this?''
Vicites said, ``I have no idea. I didn't sign the ad.''
Mazza also asked about the status of another Fay-Penn jobs venture, last year's quest to bring a warehouse operation from a Fortune 500 company to a site in Springfield Township.
That deal has apparently fallen through, as the firm reportedly selected a site other than the one for which the commissioners unanimously rezoned about 200 acres.
``Where is this warehouse? How many people are employed there?'' asked Mazza.
Alesia Maust, who lives near the Burgess Field Road rezoning, said neighbors in her area were filing the appeal after the commissioners' meeting.
``We're just little people who are up against the big wolves of Fay-Penn,'' said Alesia Maust, who said she sat in front of Krajovic and Fay-Penn board treasurer Russell Mechling Jr. at the meeting in which the rezoning was approved.
Alesia Maust said after one neighbor told the commissioners she didn't want heavy industrial development in her back yard, she overheard Mechling mumble to Krajovic, ``How about in your front yard?'' and both men ``laughed about it.''
Contacted after the meeting, Mechling said, ``I don' recall saying anything like that. If this is the woman I think it is, as we were leaving the (last) meeting, she said something to me to the effect of we were stepping on the little people.
``And I told her, `The day may come when this (rezoning) won't seem to be nearly as bad as you think it is,''' said Mechling.
David A. Lohr of South Connellsville, who does not live near the rezoned site, said the newspaper advertisement could jeopardize Fay-Penn's nonprofit status if tax dollars were used to pay for the ad.
Lohr, who is running for commissioner on an independent team with Cavanagh, also said Fay-Penn President Robert E. Eberly should be careful that lines don't blur in his open backing of three other candidates for commissioner.
As a nonprofit corporation, Lohr said of Fay-Penn, ``They are not to be involved in a political (race) of any kind.''
Vicites defended Fay-Penn against what he perceived as an unwarranted series of attacks, carried out in the forum of a commission meeting.
``I think it's a shame to tear down the (county's) lead economic development organization, which is trying to get jobs for the county,'' said Vicites.
A plan advances: Fayette officials break ground for new technology park
BY JAMES PLETCHER JR.
Herald-Standard Business Editor
NORTH UNION TWP.
Local officials Thursday broke ground for Fayette County's first new business park in more than 25 years, a $5.5 million development on about 147 acres next to Penn State Fayette Campus in North Union Township.
In addition, the first tenant in what is called the University Technology Park was announced, the Sampey Research Foundation. Dr. Harry Sampey, who last year sold his Nu-Metrics Inc. business, will spend $1 million to build the 12,000-square-foot applied research center in the northeastern portion of the new park. Sampey said the foundation will take existing technology and use it to create new products, which can be sold and the proceeds used to continually support the foundation.
Fay-Penn Economic Development Council and the Fayette Industrial Fund (FIF) are the principles in developing the park. They will use $2 million in state capital budget money; a $1.75 million loan through the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority; up to $1 million from the Fayette Industrial Fund; $500,000 from Fay-Penn made possible through the financial support of Uniontown philanthropist Robert Eberly; and $300,000 from the federal Appalachian Regional Commission that will be used to expand the North Union Township sewage treatment plant to serve the park.
"We will be doing grading, earth moving and building the road through the property,'' said Mike Krajovic, Fay-Penn executive vice president. The road, he added, should be completed this summer.
Infrastructure will be installed for all the park, although a 37-acre tract at its western edge won't be immediately developed, Krajovic added.
Building sites are located along Route 119 in North Union Township. Entry will be at the traffic light by Cavert Wire, with another entry-exit at Penn State.
CB Richard Ellis, one of the world's largest commercial/industrial real estate firms, has been hired to market the park. Leo Krantz, FIF president, said Ellis will send out a four-page slick color brochure to more than 40,000 contacts worldwide. The contract with Ellis is an exclusive one-year agreement, he said.
Krajovic said the site will feature state-of-the-art telecommunications services. He said that unlimited bandwidth capabilities are available at the site.
Part of the property cannot be developed because Texas Eastern has a gas transmission line running under it. "But we will develop green space along that path,'' Krajovic said, including a path for employees in businesses in the park to use for relaxation and exercise.
"A large portion of the construction costs include doing site work to level the property. This will save time and money for companies locating in the park,'' Krajovic added.
Swenglish and Sons Inc. of Smithfield won the contract to do the site preparation.
Krajovic and Krantz emphasized the importance of the development.
"FIF has been the leader in new business park development in Fayette County for more than 40 years,'' Krantz said.
Formerly known as the Greater Uniontown Industrial Fund, FIF helped establish the Greater Uniontown Business Park that is across the road from the new technology park. That older park, Krantz said, "is completely filled.''
The last park to be developed was the Fairchance Business Park, where infrastructure improvements were begun in 1975. Today, the park is home to several businesses, and more are planned.
"We are thrilled with this new development,'' said Dr. Gregory Gray, Penn State Fayette Campus CEO. "I am saying that partly for selfish reasons because of how it will help Penn State and its enrollments."
Fayette Campus has grown to include about 1,100 students. Gray said the campus "looks forward to partnering with Dr. Sampey and many other companies locating in the park.''
In addition to Sampey, McMillen Engineering of Uniontown is planning to locate in the park.
Another feature is that the property is part of a Keystone Opportunity Zone, which means companies locating in the park can get a tax abatement on all state and local taxes through 2010.
"This was not a major consideration for Dr. Sampey since his foundation will be non-profit."
"But, it is important to others who want to locate here,'' Krajovic said.
In June 1998, Gov. Tom Ridge helped kick off the project when he visited the site to announce he had approved $2 million in his capital budget.
Sampey said his involvement "began a long time ago,'' when he was looking for a site to build a new Nu-Metrics plant, which is located just north of the technology park on the eastern side of Route 119.
"My entire life has changed somewhat, so I decided I needed something else to do. I decided to create a foundation for applied research,'' which he described as "like baking a cake.
"You can't make a cake with just flour. Well, with applied research you take different products to find a new one that will be a solution to other questions or needs,'' he said.
"My hope is that through the foundation we will be able to go after grants for continuing research that small universities don't have the ability to go after.
"We live in a global economy and we send stuff out all over the world and bring it in from all over the world.
"Everybody tells me all the inventions have been done, but nothing has stopped. We have a great opportunity here to find new things," Sampey said.
Fayette County Commissioner Vincent Vicites, who co-chairs Fayette Forward, the county's overall strategic plan, said one goal of the plan is to develop two new business parks.
"This is the first one," he said.
Others who commented included Eberly, Fayette County Commissioner Ron Nehls, state Rep. Jim Shaner (D-Dunbar) and state Sen. Richard Kasunic (D-Dunbar).
"This is an exciting time to serve the people of Fayette County," Kasunic said. "He add that some of the recent developments making it exciting are that last week the
But, Krajovic gave a great deal of credit to Eberly.
"Bob Eberly and the Eberly family continue to make contributions to Fayette County. They will be contributing almost a million dollars to Fay-Penn this year for our continued operation. And what they give is not just for economic development. Just think of where we would be without their support?"
"How fortunate we are to have him and his family who are so dedicated to progress. They have decided to do something right here in Fayette County,'' Krajovic said.
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