Water tower plan raises ire

JOHN ZAVINSKI | Herald file

Aqua Pennsylvania plans to build an 86-foot water tower in a wooded lot it owns on the north side of Westerman Street in Hermitage. The water company already has a pump station there, which is inside the brick building at right that was designed to blend into the residential neighborhood.

HERMITAGE — An upcoming project to build an eight-story water tower in a residential neighborhood is unpopular among city residents and officials, but commissioners had to approve it.

During the city commissioners workshop meeting Thursday at Patagonia Volunteer Fire Department, commissioners defended their approval of Aqua Pennsylvania’s project to build a 86-foot-tall water tower along Westerman Street. Aqua owns the property, which is surrounded by a suburban residential area a block north of East State Street.

Though unpopular with the commissioners, the project was exempt from Hermitage’s zoning ordinances due to Aqua’s status as a public utility, which meant Hermitage officials could have faced legal action if the project wasn’t approved.

The tower would be Hermitage’s tallest structure. Aqua officials told the commissioners in March that the utility owns the Westerman Street property and that the tower’s placement and height would best serve customers while controlling costs by avoiding the purchase of additional property.

Commissioners approved the project in March, with Moder, Vice President Duane Piccirilli and Commissioner Louis Squatrito voting “yes,” Commissioner Michael Muha voting “no” and McConnell voting “present.”

David Hines of Ohio owns properties in Hermitage and said his parents live on Boyd Drive in the city. He claimed the water tower construction cost him a property sale.

When Hines asked why the commissioners allowed the project to proceed, city officials said they had no other option. Muha said he agreed with Hines’ sentiments and said he received calls from people asking about the water tower and that he attempted to get specific information from Aqua PA in regards to the construction.

“When I called and talked to Aqua PA, it was very vague,” Muha said.

Moder said that the situation could have been made worse had the commissioners voted against the project.

“We were also advised that if we had voted ‘no,’ we could have faced legal action, then we would have had to pay the cost of their attorney, which would have been another burden on the taxpayers,” Moder told Hines.

Piccirilli said that even though he lives in the area and disagrees with the project, he did not want to simply “pass it along.”

“The taxpayers of Hermitage elected me to vote according to the law, not sit back and let the time run out and it passes because it wasn’t addressed,” Piccirilli said.

Hines also asked if city officials could look into potentially lowering property taxes, to recoup lost property values stemming from the project.

City Manager Gary Hinkson said property taxes have been at 5 mills for more than a decade and are low compared to figures from surrounding municipalities.

Hines accused Hermitage of “going backwards just like Sharon with the businesses and housing.”

Piccirilli said he took exception to Hines’ entire statement.

“I think the valley as a whole is making great strides to improve the whole area and make it a great place to live,” Piccirilli said, who told Hines the comp plan discussed at the meeting was evidence of those efforts.

Squatrito agreed with Piccirilli’s sentiments, and said Hermitage was moving forward. Squatrito said he voted “yes” on the water tower because it was the right thing for “all the constituents in the city.”

“I’m not going to vote ‘yes’ or ‘present’ just to not make people mad at me,” Squatrito said.

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