WEIRTON - Extending the southern redevelopment district to the old Weirton Steel rail yards would reroute heavy truck traffic around the downtown area and position the Half Moon Industrial Park to take advantage of growth opportunities, redevelopment authority Chairman Mark Zatezalo said.
At Tuesday's meeting, Zatezalo said there's already a road running parallel to the rail line all the way from Freedom Way to the Cove Road. With grant money, they could upgrade it to the standard needed to use it as a truck conduit, much as the city of Follansbee did to reroute heavy trucks around its business district.
To obtain grant money for the project, however, Zatezalo said they first must have access to the property, hence the quest to include it in the redevelopment district.
"If we don't have access to the property, we can't include it in funding," he told the board.
Generally speaking, the southern redevelopment district currently starts at Virginia Avenue and extends "into the mill and to West Street, all the way to Freedom Way," he said.
The extension would encompass the area leading to the rail yard and "all the property to the river, moving south."
"We do have a rather large industrial park that does a significant amount of business," he said. "If we don't do something to improve transportation (there), we're missing the boat. And if we don't tie the rail yard into (it), we're missing the boat. Really, this is probably the perfect opportunity to set transportation up."
Zatezalo pointed out the community "desperately needs better rail access" to the port area, as well as a way to keep big rigs out of the business district.
"If we can keep trucks out of commercial and residential areas, it's going to be good for them, too, liability wise," he said. "It's a win-win."
And he said extending the redevelopment district would not change ownership of any of the land involved; the rail yard is part of the 800-plus acres ArcelorMittal has designated as surplus property and as such, is currently on the market. "It can't be a bad thing for the new buyer," he pointed out.
"We don't take property. If there are properties available we can buy them, but we cannot grab property. We work hand in hand with people who want to develop their property."
Zatezalo said the transportation upgrade hinges on them being able to extend the redevelopment district.
He said he's already broached the subject with Brooke County commissioners, who've requested a letter outlining what they have in mind and why. He'll be sending a similar letter to Hancock County commissioners, because a portion of the area in question lies within their jurisdiction.
He also said the proposed extension and transportation upgrades would help the community capture development potential, which would be good for the people of Brooke and Hancock counties.
"It would keep trucks off the (streets,) which is good for the average person," he said. "The benefits are great. And if we can enhance transportation, the chances of business coming into Weirton are greatly enhanced.
"Weirton is sitting in a pretty good location right now, as far as the oil and gas industry is concerned," he added. "It's the perfect place to be."
In other action, the redevelopment authority clarified its request for funding from the city.
Zatezalo said their initial request merely asked council to consider allocating a portion of the city's $250,000 cash carryover from the 2011-12 budget year to them.
"I'd like to propose that we request the amount of money they took out of our CDBG (Community Development Block Grant)," he said. "It might be steep, they might not go for it, but I'd like to request $45,000, especially since we have some urgent need for it coming up."
Zatezalo said they need funds for property appraisals, among other things.