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Moon Supervisors Approve Zoning, Conditional Use for RMU's Holiday Inn Property

The Holiday Inn property and 11 adjacent properties are now part of the mixed-use educational overlay district

Following some compromises on both sides, Moon Supervisors voted Monday night to approve Robert Morris University's zoning amendment request for the former Pittsburgh Airport Holiday Inn property. 

Supervisors held a special meeting to reconvene for two public hearings that were continued earlier this month. 

The Moon-based university sought to use the former hotel as a dormitory, which is located in a highway/commercial area on University Boulevard where dormitories are not permitted.

Had the supervisors not been given approval, Gregory Dell'Omo, president of Robert Morris University, said the university would have had "a major problem."

"We really didn't have a plan B," he said. 

The Holiday Inn property and 11 adjacent properties are now part of the mixed-use educational overlay district, which allows the dorm as a permissible use. Supervisors also voted 4-0 to approve the university's conditional use application for a dorm, with several terms and conditions attached, including a requirement that Robert Morris complete a traffic impact study within six months.

Dell'Omo said 502 students will begin moving into the former hotel, now known as Yorktown Hall, next month before the fall semester begins on Aug. 22. 

Robert Morris first began renting rooms in the hotel for the fall 2010 semester and provided students with free shuttle service to class. RMU purchased the 10-story hotel for $10 million in 2011. Last year, about 330 students were housed there, up from about 210 the previous year.  

Supervisors had raised various concerns that included losing a commercial development and tax revenue.

Because the university is tax exempt, Robert Morris volunteered to give Moon a $230,000 contribution—the equivalent of 10 years in township tax revenue from the hotel property—paid out over three years in $100,000 increments the first and second year, and $30,000 the third year. 

Both sides came to an agreement the funds will be used for traffic upgrades at the University Boulevard and Campus Drive intersection. 

Moon Solicitor Tim Bish said any remaining balance will go to the township for municipal purposes, or if the improvements are more than $230,000, Robert Morris will cover the additional cost. 

In a "worst case scenario," officials said the intersection could require a complete redesign with a price tag of $700,000.

University officials agreed Monday to absorb the full cost, as well as pay the township's professional consulting fees associated with the zoning process. 

Robert Morris had previously offered to provide $80,000 of the funds to construct sidewalks from Beaver Grade Road to the campus entrance, but supervisors agreed to drop the sidewalk requirement if RMU was willing to foot the bill for intersection improvements and the township's professional consultant fees associated with the zoning process.

The university, meanwhile, will address student safety by providing a shuttle service to discourage students from walking to and from campus.

RMU Solicitor Lafe Metz said the shuttle service will run every five to 10 minutes transporting students to class. One of the shuttles, called the Yorktown Express, provides a direct ride from the dorm to the main campus without stopping. An additional shuttle will be added to the commercial district, per the township's request, he said. 

Metz said the cost to provide the shuttles is more than $300,000 annually. 

Other conditions require no vehicular access to Rosemont Drive and a 50-foot buffer yard separating the dorm property from the residential neighborhood. And Robert Morris will still be required to construct a portion of sidewalk at the front of the property in a location agreeable to the township engineer. 

The university's contract with the Holiday Inn expired last week and the hotel sign has been taken down. The new zoning designation will allow RMU to seek approvals to make adjustments geared toward the dorm. Plans include converting a former nightclub in the hotel into a food court and reserving conference room space for student groups.

"We're very excited with the outcome," Dell'Omo said. "It's been a very thorough, at times exhaustive process, but one has to go through the steps and we're excited to have it completed." 

John Linko July 23, 2013 at 04:30 PM
It sounds as if the best possible short-term outcome has been reached, at least as far as RMU is concerned. I say "short-term" because it also feels as if the temperature of the pot on the stove has just been turned up a notch. It's good to see that some inroads have been made with regard to improving traffic flow into the main campus, protecting nearby residential neighborhoods, and assuring that reliable shuttle transportation is available to students. Still, there is much to be done with University Boulevard from a holistic standpoint - solutions that benefit not only residents, businesses, and non-profit institutions along its length, but those consumers, commuters, and travelers who will come to and through the area and bring their spending money with them. It's still difficult to fathom how the administration of RMU "didn't really have a Plan B". How much do these people get paid? What kind of advanced degrees and experience does it require to preside over a University? Perhaps just enough to be able to think that anything they ask Moon Township for, they'll get - without question. I hope that RMU learned something from this process. I still personally think that alternative transportation for RMU students is underserved by this solution. I wonder if there are student organizations related to fitness or the environment who might be sparked to start a walking campaign or bicycle sharing program to illustrate the needs and potential benefits of walkways connecting the campus to Yorktown Hall. In the meantime, I'll be waiting for those traffic alerts that get put over the various media in mid-August, when all of the students in Oakland move back in for the fall semester. I'm wondering if someday University Boulevard will need to be included.

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