PA: Castle Shannon Light Rail Plan On Track

June 26--A long-planned development that would link residential and commercial spaces with light rail transportation in Castle Shannon finally could begin this year, the developer and a county official said.

By the end of 2014, construction is expected to start on the $42 million Shannon Village Transit, a 152-unit, 10-story apartment building, commercial space adjacent to the main floor of the apartment building and a parking deck to the rail stop on Castle Shannon Boulevard, said Jim Aiello Sr. of Lawrenceville-based JRA Development Group Inc. JRA is a partner in Shannon Transit Village LP, which is developing the Castle Shannon project.

"The ability to live in a brand-new building and walk and not need a car to do anything is going to be a tremendous attraction. That's the whole idea of transit development," Aiello said.

The development would be built in downtown Castle Shannon, within the transit-oriented development district that was rezoned in 2006, borough Manager Thomas Hartswick said.

Castle Shannon is a mature community that, like most its age, has had challenges in revitalizing its downtown, Hartswick said. Central business district occupancy has been stable, but Shannon Transit Village will improve it, he said.

About two months ago, Shannon Transit Village LP selected Mascaro Construction as the construction manager for the publicly funded portion of the project -- including building the parking deck and moving a sanitary line -- and Mistick Construction to build the apartments.

The work likely will take 18 months to finish, Aiello said.

There are hurdles: Port Authority of Allegheny County and the Federal Transportation Administration must approve the final plan, said Dennis Davin, director of Allegheny County Economic Development. Also, Port Authority and the developer have not signed a lease, Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said.

Of the $42 million project cost, about $30 million is privately financed, while the rest will come from county, state and federal funds, Aiello said.

About $3 million will come from tax-increment financing, in which portions of real estate taxes on the property will be diverted from Castle Shannon, Keystone Oaks School District and Allegheny County to pay back bonds for infrastructure improvements.

The Castle Shannon park-and-ride lot has 507 parking spaces, but its average weekday use is 526 vehicles, Ritchie said.

The project will put some spaces on the deck, and leave some on the surface in order to provide slightly more than 500 spaces, Aiello said.

Aiello proposed Shannon Transit Village to the Port Authority in 1998. But because of issues such as traffic improvements needed on Castle Shannon Boulevard, financing and the site's long, narrow shape the project never took on life until four years ago, he said.

Transit-oriented development is a mix of housing, office, retail or other commercial development and amenities, in a walkable community within a half-mile of public transportation, according to the Center for Transit-Oriented Development.

Other transit-oriented developments are planned in East Liberty, Dormont and Mt. Lebanon.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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