- Published on Wednesday, 08 December 2010 19:08
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Earlier this year The Journal reported that O’Gara Group had the old Arrowhead Superfund Site property under contract and was actively investigating its ability to use the former manufacturing plant and surrounding property for training and other purposes.
EPA has since completed its scheduled review of the property’s Superfund status and a sign has been posted on the grounds providing notice of the public hearing scheduled for next Thursday morning in the A.T. Johnson auditorium.
At 9 a.m. on Dec. 16, Westmoreland County’s Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors will convene in joint session to entertain the current property owner’s request to rezone the 16-acre property and convey a special exception that will enable the unused 154,681 square foot building to be used as a tactical training facility by The O’Gara Group. The sales agreement between the property’s Mattaco, Inc. owner and O’Gara Group is conditioned upon the local government’s conveyance of the set of approvals that are the subjects of next Thursday morning’s advertised public hearings.
Zoning Administrator Robert Fink has prepared a report advising the Planning Commissioners and county supervisors that the property’s current M-1, General Industrial zoning designation does not support the technical school operation The O’Gara Group proposed.
Instead, Fink explained, the zoning must be changed to IG, Industrial General, where training facilities are a Special Exception option.
On the morning of Dec. 16, Mattaco representative Charlotte Hutt will ask the county’s commissioners and supervisors to rezone the property and approve the special exception request. The public will have an opportunity to weigh in during the two separate hearings.
Attorney Richard Hutt additionally represents the application and has served as O’Gara Group’s local attorney of record since January 2009, when the tactical training establishment contracted to buy the county’s unoccupied industrial shell building and surrounding property.
Public opposition to O’Gara’s intention to locate its training center in Westmoreland County was extensive. Litigation followed in the county’s Circuit Court, but the judge had not returned his findings when this edition of The Journal went to press. O’Gara Group has no current contract to buy the shell building and final remnant of the county’s industrial park property, but in an interview earlier this year, O’Gara Group Director James Noe advised that the transaction will be delayed until questions pending in Westmoreland Circuit Court have been appropriately resolved.
O’Gara Group nonetheless moved forward with its development initiatives outside the realm of county government. Large tracts of property contiguous with the county’s industrial park and the 16-acre Mattaco, Inc. property were purchased from Bryan Chandler and developed as the establishment’s tactical training facility. Development included construction of classrooms and offices, shooting ranges and an evasive maneuvers driving range.
Addressing the pending acquisition of property currently owned by Mattaco, the Robert Fink report of Dec. 2, 2010, advises the commissioners and supervisors that “the training facility is not expected to exceed 200 students and 20 trainers.” The enterprise “is anticipated to create a minimum of five additional jobs” and existing parking facilities would fulfill VDOT and local ordinance requirements.
“In addition,” wrote Fink, “The O’Gara Group intends to use the industrial property for manufacturing, warehousing, and other uses permitted by right in the IG zoning district.”
In addition to its tactical training enterprises, O’Gara Group is engaged in the manufacture of night vision equipment and armor. During the most recent telephone interview, Project Director James Noe advised that O’Gara Group is in possession of numerous job applications submitted by local residents.
“We are very impressed by the quality of the local workforce,” Noe stated. At that time the O’Gara spokesperson expressed hope that the evaluation of Mattaco’s abandoned building would support establishment of an O’Gara Group manufacturing enterprise.
Fink’s report addressed the favorable finding associated with that consideration.
“The contract purchaser anticipates that locating either of its manufacturing divisions here would provide at the site as many as 100 jobs. The use of the site for these other activities is [not a subject of the Dec. 16 Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors meeting].”
“Most of the activity will take place within the existing one story building,” Fink additionally related.
“The school is expected to use approximately 90,000 square feet of the building.”
A Conceptual Layout Plan included in the informational packet designates a configuration of classrooms, gym, kitchen and dining area, lounge, possible indoor shooting range and other indoor training areas.
Fink noted “the site has been used by a number of businesses for manufacturing [enterprises] since the 1960s. Activity on the site in the past resulted in the designation of the Arrowhead Plating Superfund Site by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“The pollutants are located underground, but can migrate,” Fink advised.
“There are a number of underground remediation and monitoring facilities installed on site and nearby. While remediation has been put into place, ‘hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants remain at the site above levels that allow for unlimited use and unrestricted exposure’ according to the latest report prepared by the EPA in September 2010.”
Fink additionally advised of the expectation “that the EPA will issue a ‘comfort letter’ confirming that the [O’Gara Group] purchasers will not be responsible for the remediation of past pollution.”
If the property is rezoned, the special exception approval would include a stipulation requiring O’Gara Group to develop and implement a noise mitigation plan if an indoor shooting range is included in the mix.
Additional information provided by the county’s Land Use Office discloses the current owner’s conjecture that sale to O’Gara would serve the public’s general interest. The document signed by Realtor Charlotte Hutt notes that “this property has been vacant for many years, particularly since its designation as a Superfund site by the EPA.
“Due to this, the property simply has not been used and soon will fall into a state of dilapidation,” the rezoning and special exception applicant remarked.
“The applicant and the contract purchaser desire to utilize the building and property [in a manner that will] make it productive for the county and community. The renovations of the building upon rezoning and special exception in and of themselves are estimated to be in excess of one million dollars.
“Obviously, the vast majority of the million dollars will flow into the Westmoreland economy. The use of the facility allows O’Gara to expand their facility using an existing developed property and realizing job growth in their business.”
“The use of this facility puts an otherwise undesirable location to use, expands the county’s tax base and redevelops a site that has been left vacant and unused,” the application material explained.