Grier School project clears zoning hurdle in Warriors Mark Township

The newly adopted Warriors Mark Township zoning ordinance got another real test as an area boarding school makes plans to expand.
In early October, supervisors passed a resolution to allow the project to proceed after they became aware of the project. Prior to the resolution, township officials had determined the Grier School was not in compliance with the township’s land development regulations. The resolution was the result of an agreement worked out between the school and the township to bring the project into compliance. In addition to the land development regulations, the project also raised questions about how it fit in to the new zoning regulations in the township.
Officials at the Grier School have been working on the development of a 9,600 sq.-ft. dance studio, along with a 50-stall parking lot on a 69-acre parcel of land.
While the Grier School campus is partially situated in the borough of Birmingham, the area where the dance studio is to be located falls in Warriors Mark Township.
According to the new township zoning ordinance, passed last spring, the area being eyed for expansion is zoned as “agricultural,” that normally would prohibit significant development, such as the dance studio. County planning officials had a look at the plans in October and noted that some action would have to be taken in order to keep the development in line with the zoning.
“This is an interesting situation,” said county planning director Richard Stahl. “The zoning set forth in that area does not fit the specific purpose for this new building, so this will be a test for the new zoning ordinance.”
In a follow-up interview with The Daily Herald, Stahl indicated when he made those comments he wasn’t aware action had already been taken by Warriors Mark Supervisors on Oct. 4.
Officials at Grier School said they were aware of the zoning situation and that the contractor spearheading the job had made efforts to resolve the issue.
“Our contractor — Sam McClosky Builders, Altoona — recently met with Warriors Mark Township officials,” explained Marlene Halbedl, Grier School business manager. “We’ve already been awarded the needed permits to continue on with our project which we’re very happy about.
“We’re doing our best to make the best use of as much flat ground on campus as possible. The new studio will be a beautiful addition to this campus.”
Even though their contractor had to jump through a “hoop or two” to continue on with construction, Halbedl said the school supports the new zoning ordinance.
“Zoning’s definitely a step in the right direction,” the business manager said. “It delayed this project a little, but we went through the proper channels and everything’s take care of.”
Previously, The Daily Herald reported Warriors Mark Township solicitor Larry Clapper announced at the Oct. 4 meeting that issues regarding proper federal, state and local permits, fees and other concerns had or are being satisfied. The issues had gone through the (township) planning commission and been reviewed by the township’s engineer. Clapper said the conditions of a Sept. 28 review letter from the engineer had been satisfied.
The letter noted that under the township zoning ordinance, private schools are not identified as a permitted use or special exception. The dance studio was deemed an expansion of an existing non-conforming use.
The review letter from Keller Engineers further noted that an expansion or alteration of a nonconformity by more than ten percent shall be regarded as a conditional use subject to approval by the supervisors.
The school was issued a $1,000 fine versus prosecution for violating the township’s land development ordinance. Township officials confirmed the fine has been paid. The payment of the fine was required before the plans could be signed.
In a follow-up interview last week, Clapper said the county planners act in an “advisory” capacity only. He said, speaking in general terms, plans normally would go to the county before supervisors acted. However, county approval isn’t required to allow supervisors to approve a plan. He explained if the county planners discovered something that was seriously wrong with the plans then supervisors have a way out. They retain the right to rescind the approval or ask a developer to correct the problem.
The new complex will offer two new studios, which will house all of the school’s rehearsals and recitals. Currently, only one class may rehearse at a time, due to space constraints, a problem, which will soon be remedied.
“So many of our girls participate in the dance program here at Grier, so we’re all very excited to see the project to completion,” Halbedl said.
Plans are already in place to stage the 2006 graduation ceremony and dance recital in the new facility.
Grier School was established in 1853.