August 28, 2008

Ross Duplex Construction, Healing Begin

By Daveen Rae Kurutz

More than six months after a controversial housing plan landed Ross officials in court and angered a fearful neighborhood, the wounds are healing as work on Hearth at Benet Woods begins.

Construction is expected to begin this week on 11 duplexes along Rodenbaugh Avenue near the Pittsburgh border. The $1.2 million project will be available in the spring to renters making between $24,800 and $37,200.

While residents rallied against the development -- citing reasons ranging from safety to decreases in property value -- they're starting to come around, said Dan DeMarco, president of the Ross Board of Commissioners.

"I think some of the wounds are healed," DeMarco said at a ceremonial groundbreaking Tuesday. "I know the wounds will heal when this project is completed."

While Hearth was seeking township approval of its plans, residents showed up at commission and zoning hearing meetings, packing the room week after week to make complaints. Hearth officials were met with a barrage of phone calls, said Judy Eakin, Benet Woods Housing Corp. executive director.

These days, the phones have quieted down. Eakin hopes residents are ready to accept Hearth tenants as part of their neighborhood.

"Their kids are going to be going to North Hills," Eakin said. "The parents will be shopping here, going to church here. Our goal all along has been to get people to talk about this."

Residents made sure their voices were heard, which ultimately influenced the commissioners to deny the plan with a tied vote in November.

A lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, Downtown, led the way for commissioners and officials from Hearth and Trek development to strike an agreement that addressed resident concerns and approved the plan.

Eakin and Benet Woods President Jerry Drozynski call the fruition of Hearth at Benet Woods a dream.

"My dream is simply children laughing and playing on the hill down behind us," Drozynski said. "But luckily, it isn't just my dream."

DeMarco believes the neighborhood will embrace the development once it sees its residents as hard-working, contributing members of the community.

"I feel very, very good about this project," DeMarco said. "I'm very confident that the project will be successful and it will be a great addition to the neighborhood. ... I definitely think it will happen."

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