South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

 
 

By Margaret Smyka
Contributing Writer 

Zoning Board hearing next stop for Diesel's proposed rooftop deck plans

 

April 13, 2010



A call for residents to attend the April 22 Zoning Board of Adjustment hearing to voice their views on Diesel nightclub's proposal to erect a rooftop deck concluded the last of three meetings on the issue called by District 3 Councilman Bruce Kraus.

The April 7 meeting at the Market House drew about 40 attendees with Mr. Kraus conducting the proceedings. The city's zoning administrator, Susan Tymoczko, was present to answer zoning questions.

Adam DeSimone, who owns the multi-use venue and property at 1601 East Carson St. with his father, Pat, and brother, Michael, is proposing to erect an open rooftop deck, or third floor courtyard.

Three variances are required to proceed with the project.

In the first, he will be asking for an additional 1,400-square-feet as the floor area ratio allows for a 900-square-feet deck. The proposed deck is 2,300-square-feet.

Ms. Tymoczko said a building total of 8,280-square-feet is permitted without a variance, but the applicant is seeking 9,654-square-feet.

According to the law, you may have twice the size of the lot in total floor area, for a 2 to 1 ratio. The proposal is a 2.33 to 1 ratio.

In the second variance, Mr. DeSimone will be seeking a 0-foot setback instead of a 20-foot setback from the rear lot line as the stairs in the building that would be extended upward are within the 20-foot area.

In the third variance, he will need 18 additional parking spaces, one additional space is required for every 125-square-feet of floor area.

The Zoning Board of Adjustment hearing will be held at 9:50 a.m. on April 22, 200 Ross St.

Mr. DeSimone said he is seeking the larger floor plan so he can create a "beautiful outdoor space" which would not be possible with a 900-square-foot deck. His goal, he said, is a "first class rooftop courtyard."

In addition to the Zoning Board's approval, Mr. DeSimone needs the approval of the Historic Review Commission, which he said he received that day.

Carson St. is a national registered historic district and a local historic district. There are zoning and planning guidelines for what is appropriate in the district.

Mr. Kraus began the meeting by saying he talked with Mr. DeSimone about issues raised in the first two meetings, namely, occupancy; kind of service on the third floor; hours/days of operation; and music.

But no consensus was reached on those except for music as there is a city ordinance governing that.

In response to other concerns, Mr. DeSimone agreed to erect an eight-foot high wall to contain noise, and to utilize plastic bottles and glasses on the deck.

He said he has no plans at this time to put plasma TVs on the deck. Neighbors have complained about their sound levels.

Mr. DeSimone said he has always been more than willing to meet with residents and business owners about his proposal. He has attended about 10 meetings with South Side groups in the last five to six weeks on the issue.

An attendee commented that an increase in occupancy at Diesel would negatively affect local parking, traffic, and air pollution.

He asked Ms. Tymoczko if the board considers the impact of increased occupancy on the entire area before rending decisions. She said it does not.

Under the proposal, the 2300-square-feet deck would have a maximum capacity of 300 people, raising Diesel's capacity to 900. However, Mr. DeSimone said he is seeking only to have an occupancy of 120 for the deck, an amount less than the 180 person occupancy that could be granted to a 900 sq. foot deck.

Mr. Kraus, who has called Mr. DeSimone a model business owner, said he told him that an increase in the current 600-person capacity would be a "deal breaker" for him.

An attendee asked if the occupancy is raised to 900 people, will 900 people be allowed in the building even if the rooftop is closed due to snow and ice?

Mr. DeSimone said he would never allow that many patrons into Diesel as space would be so cramped no one would receive proper service.

A business owner across from Diesel said his important criterion is the quality of life on Carson St. That will not be good if patrons throw objects off the deck.

Mr. Kraus said if standards are set for East Carson St ., they must be enforced. Once variances are granted, there will be no weekend enforcement, say, if items are thrown off the deck.

If standards are not set, he said, the alcohol economies could shift and move elsewhere if an area becomes regarded as unsafe. South Side became the preferred venue for young adults after shootings and other crime at Oakland and Strip District nightspots.

An area businessman said the problem is bigger than Mr. DeSimone, who is not responsible for parking and other problems. Instead, city agencies must deal with these problems. But noise from the deck is a concern, and there must be security on the deck, he said.

Another business owner said non-enforcement of measures already in place is the problem.

Mr. Kraus told attendees to visit his city website to see his proposal for the district.

That management plan is based on responsible hospitality practices, many of which have proven successful in other cities.

The non-profit Responsible Hospitality Institute (RHI) promotes cooperation among those involved in hospitality, safety, and community development groups. A one-day RHI conference will be held in the city on June 8.

The RHI's approach is communication, cooperation, consensus, commitment, and collaboration among stakeholders.

If a public safety official has to be involved, "we dropped the ball," he said.

Mr. Kraus said there are 4,800 liquor licenses in six counties in western Pennsylvania. Of those, 1,250 are in Allegheny County, with 159 in the East Carson corridor.

But there are only 22 Liquor Control Enforcement (LCE) agents.

Zone 3 police are also spread thin, covering 15 to 16 neighborhoods.

Without leaves or sick days, there are 14 police in Zone 3 on a weekend shift. With gun violence plaguing some of the neighborhoods, that does not leave much help for the South Side.

Regarding the zoning hearing, an attendee said while a lot of people do not want to speak in public, they should still show up as there is "strength in numbers."

"The zoning board needs to see that our community is together," she said.

 

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