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Planners OK Senior LIFE project

Firm to move from Gables building to new structure

The Altoona Planning Commission on Tuesday conditionally approved a land development plan for a $3 million project that will enable Senior LIFE to move from rental space in the Gables building downtown to a new structure on Fairway Drive.

The commission declined to waive a requirement that the firm construct a sidewalk along the 1,000-foot property frontage, but it accepted the company’s plan for two driveway openings, despite early concerns that egress from the property could create a hazard, due its location on an S curve.

The company argued for the sidewalk waiver based on the absence of sidewalks along almost the entire length of Fairway Drive.

Yet granting such a waiver would set a bad precedent, making it likely that every developer would request one for projects in places where there weren’t sidewalks already, said Commissioner Dave Albright, an architect.

Conversely, there is precedent for the commission to force developers to build sidewalks even when they don’t connect with existing ones, Albright told fellow Commissioner Dick Haines, a former Blair County planning director.

There are such disconnected sidewalk segments along Pleasant Valley Boulevard and Plank Road, Albright said.

“You’ve got to start somewhere,” said Commissioner Larry Bilotto, a former employee of PennDOT, speaking of a yearslong regional effort by that agency and municipalities to improve pedestrian accommodations, especially in the valley.

One of the only sidewalk segments on Fairway is actually just south of the Senior LIFE tract, in front of the former Sir Skate building, now a complex that contains government offices, including one for the Department of Environmental Protection.

The 212-unit Logan Hills Apartments are on the other side of the Senior LIFE property.

Bilotto assured his fellow commissioners that they needn’t worry about driveway egress, based on a site examination he conducted with a friend who has worked at PennDOT.

The main concern was the potential for crashes between southbound vehicles on Fairway cresting the hill just beyond Logan Hills and the rear of the Van Zandt VA Medical Center and vehicles exiting Senior LIFE, Bilotto said.

“Of all the movements, that (was) the one,” he said.

But with the expected elimination of high brush and the embankment on which it’s growing along the edge of the Senior LIFE property, there will be enough clearance for drivers of both vehicles to see each other in time to avoid such crashes — given that the speed limit on Fairway is 25 mph, Bilotto said.

“It appears to work out,” he said.

Initially, Senior LIFE had proposed three driveways, but is now proposing two — an employee access across from the northernmost entrance to the former YTI building and a main access across from the southernmost entrance to the YTI building, Bilotto said.

A consultant was also going to review the traffic issue for the city, Bilotto indicated.

Senior LIFE is an operator of the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly — called the LIFE program in Pennsylvania — a Medicare- and Medicaid-approved initiative for people 55 and older that enables participants to continue living at home, instead of a long-term care facility, according to the Senior LIFE website.

The program provides social interaction, primary care services, medication, rehabilitation, home care and transportation for those who qualify financially.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.

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