Photo by Jamie Wiggan
More than a year after the Crivelli Chevrolet dealership in McKees Rocks closed, ALCOSAN approves purchase of the site for use with their Clean Water Plan.
By Jamie Wiggan
Despite pressure from local officials to consider alternative plans, the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority (ALCOSAN) board authorized staff to acquire the former Crivelli Chevrolet property in McKees Rocks during its Oct. 22 monthly meeting.
Representatives of McKees Rocks Borough and the Sto-Rox School District both condemn the move, which they say will result in lost tax revenue and the removal of a prime slice of commercial real estate otherwise able to support a new business. ALCOSAN officials have not specified their plans for the site, but say it fits into a planned $2 billion infrastructure overhaul in furtherance of the Clean Water Plan.
“It’s a bad thing for McKees Rocks,” said Council President Paul Krisby. “The borough’s going to lose out, the school district’s gonna lose out.”
Krisby said he and other borough officials held multiple talks with ALCOSAN but the sanitary authority showed little sign of conceding ground.
“We’re trying to move forward in this town but ALCOSAN doesn’t want to do anything right,” he said.
Currently owned by Crivelli Limited Partnership, the property is assessed at around $2.85 million and generates more than $100,000 each year in combined school, municipal and county taxes. After several generations in the community, the dealership announced its closure late 2019, citing changing conditions within the automotive industry.
ALCOSAN — a municipal authority under Allegheny County — is exempt from property tax payments and will therefore have no tax obligations on the property if it takes ownership.
Samantha Levitzki-Wright, president of the Sto-Rox school board, said the district may be “forced” to raise its millage rate to fill the gap created when the property is sold. With a total enrollment of around 1,400 students, the district is already heavily indebted and passed a budget for the current school year projecting further losses to the tune of nearly $3 million.
“This is for sure a blow of $70K in revenue to the district,” she said in a text message.
Levitzki-Wright noted the Allegheny County Housing Authority voluntarily pledged to pay taxes to the borough and school district on an office building in the final stages of construction in McKees Rocks, and suggested ALCOSAN could do the same as a goodwill gesture toward the cash-strapped community.
Seeking to garner support from elected representatives at the state and federal level, Krisby signed off on a three-page open letter dated June 22, which laid out the borough’s concerns with ALCOSAN’s acquisition plans for a “tunnel boring launch site” on the Crivelli property.
In addition to lost tax revenue, the letter argues the lot in question represents a strategic commercial parcel that’s crucial to wider regeneration efforts.
“Keeping the Crivelli’s Property part of the commercial business district and neighborhood shopping center is essential to the economic wellbeing of our distressed community; it is critical to our continued revitalization,” the letter states.
Responding to the call, Sen. Wayne Fontana (D-42) said he met with representatives from all parties to search for common solutions.
He said McKees Rocks officials initially thought ALCOSAN was choosing between the Crivelli property and the former Western Penitentiary State Correctional Institute on the other side of the Ohio River — but it turned out it wanted both for separate purposes.
After that became evident, Fontana said there was little else he could do to support the borough and school district.
“I would be happy to help [the State Correctional Institute] sell to ALCOSAN if that would have helped,” he said, adding: “I’m not in a position to say to ALCOSAN they can’t buy it.”
When ALCOSAN board members authorized the property purchase at $2.05 million, and to acquire it through eminent domain if necessary, they did not comment publicly on its intended use. The motions on the agenda stated the property would be used “in furtherance of the Clean Water Plan” — a $2 billion project unveiled this year to bring the area’s sewage infrastructure into compliance with federal law.
Responding to questions in an email, Joseph Vallarian, ALCOSAN’s communications director, suggested the authority has no fixed plans for the site, stating instead “the decision for the usage of the property depends on a number of factors as we move forward.”
“The opportunity to purchase a piece of property near our existing infrastructure, the river and the possible alignment of our new conveyance system, was a prudent move for both ALCOSAN and its ratepayers,” he added.
Having been warned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1997 that its infrastructure was in breach of federal regulations, the agency has since been involved in longstanding upgrade efforts. A years-in-the-works $2 billion overhaul proposal was approved by federal courts in May, with a 15-year implementation deadline.