South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

 
 

By Margaret Smyka
Contributing Writer 

Social club developers to talk to community

 

March 15, 2011

Developers want to convert the former St. Elmo's bookstore on East Carson Street into an after-hours “social club.”

Zoning Board wants input from South Side residents

Vigorous questioning greeted members of a development group seeking to open an after-hours "social club" at 2214 East Carson St. in the vacant former St. Elmo's bookstore at the March 8 meeting of the South Side Planning Forum at the Brashear Center.

On March 15, the development group and all interested parties are expected to return to the Brashear Center at the behest of the city Zoning Board of Adjustment. The board noted there is no time for such dialogue at zoning meetings and asked that all parties get together in a community meeting to discuss club-related issues.

The 6 p.m. meeting will be open to the public. City Councilman Bruce Kraus will be the facilitator.

The club's operator, Thomas Barnes, who holds the liquor license, told the forum on March 8 he would be requesting a "special exception" approval from the city Zoning Board of Adjustment on March 10. A social club is a special exception in a Local Neighborhood Commercial (LNC) district.

When forum members strongly encouraged postponement as two days was not enough time for members to review requested project documents, or for the community to examine the issues, attorney Ryan Wotus, of Goldberg, Kamin & Garvin, LLP, said he would discuss the matter with club officials.

The officials ultimately asked for a two-week continuance on March 10 before the Zoning Board of Adjustment, at which time the board requested the community meeting. With no openings on the board's schedule in two weeks, the zoning hearing will be continued on April 14.

The non-profit club, to be called the Polish American Citizens Club, would occupy the building's 1600-square-feet first floor. There would be a bar, kitchen, and dining area. The maximum occupancy is 99 with the bar and dining area seating 76.

There are no plans to provide parking except for two spots. The hours of operation would be from 4 p.m. to 3 a.m ., Monday through Sunday.

Thomas Jayson, a former employer of Mr. Barnes and a consultant to the project, and who said he has experience in designing clubs, said there would be plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning upgrades. The Historic Review Board approved the exterior design, he said.

Membership would be required for entry, unless accompanying a member. Annual dues are $20. Board approval is required for membership.

The club currently has 45-50 members, with the average age over 40. The anticipated target membership is about 500.

While the club's charter has been inactive for a few years, said Mr. Barnes, he revived operations with board elections a year ago. Club officers have been meeting once a month at various locations.

The proposed South Side site would have no entertainment beyond televisions and a jukebox, he said.

When asked what the club's mission statement is by Judy Dyda of the South Side Local Development Co ., Mr. Barnes said it will donate money to Light of Life Ministries and the food bank. But there are no other activities planned as of this day.

"It's just a nice place for people to come and hang out," he said of the club.

Ms. Dyda said according to state code, the sale of alcohol must be secondary to a club's main purpose and she was concerned the sale of alcohol was the primary purpose for the club in this case.

She said she was also concerned with the club's association to Mr. Jayson.

Mr. Jayson has been connected with numerous local establishments over the past decades - including Touch, Donzi's, Matrix, and Rock Jungle - with some involving shootings.

Christine Gaus, of the Brashear Association, later referred to the "long and unsavory list of businesses" Mr. Jayson was associated with according to the "Pittsburgh Business Times."

Ms. Dyda requested information on the application process; a copy of the membership list; list of affiliations; and, a copy of the club's mission statement. The development group said it would be provided to her.

When asked by Wanda Jankoski, of the South Side Community Council, where 99 patrons will park, Mr. Wotus said there are no plans for valet parking. To a question about trash, Mr. Barnes said there will be one dumpster in the back. He has not talked to any neighbors about the project.

Misi Bielich, the South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association representative, asked if there were any plans to mitigate the club's effect on seniors living in nearby Carson Towers, such as with traffic and noise.

"You are perpetuating [an already existing] problem for another hour," she said.

Rick Belloli, executive director of the South Side LDC, said while the club is not required to provide parking under the ordinance, parking information will have to be provided to the Zoning Board of Adjustment for a special exception. He also requested to see the club's non-profit paperwork.

An audience member commented the area has a "huge" DUI problem, and what is needed are non-drinking establishments.

Councilman Kraus questioned the men whether either of them had been cited for liquor violations, Mr. Barnes said there were underage citations, ladies' night infractions, and a noise violation at clubs he worked at for Mr. Jayson. Both said they had never been arrested.

After the presentation - and the development group's departure - the board voted for its members to discuss the issue with their organizations.

Ms. Jankoski and Thomas Barry, of the South Side Chamber of Commerce, said their respective groups have discussed the issue and are opposed to the club.

In other news, the next phase in the process toward establishing a Neighborhood Improvement District (NID) on the South Side began with the formation of a steering committee.

Susie Puskar, neighborhood outreach coordinator for the South Side Local Development Company, announced the following members would be participating on the NID Steering Committee: Thom Barry (business owner and resident); Bryan Boak (business owner); Hugh Brannan (non-voting ex-officio member); Kim Collins (business owner and resident); Penny Folino (business owner); Cortney Ivanov (business owner and resident); Wanda Jankoski (resident); Scott Kramer (business owner); Evan Stoddard (resident); and Jennifer Tarquinio (business owner).

The members were chosen from 150 submitted names.

Ms. Puskar said a recent request for proposal, or RFP, sought a consultant for ensuring that the legal process of forming a NID is followed. She will review the eight proposals and narrow the field to three. The steering committee will review the three proposals and choose a consultant.

A NID is an area established to provide funding for improvements that supplement limited city resources, such as security patrols and streetscape beautification. An assessment is levied on area properties to fund the improvements.

The NID would not become law until passed by city council. Prior to that, public meetings will be held and property owners in the designated area will have an opportunity to vote on whether the district proceeds to council for final approval.

In the LTV Steering Committee report, Ms. Dyda reported: the Get Go project is moving forward; the hotel is progressing; and restaurants are generally doing well.

Soffer's riverfront development rights have been extended to an eight-year range of 2012-2020, dependent on three projects being completed within the next five years. If three projects are not completed, the timeframe drops to seven years. A parking study on the need for another garage must also be examined.

To a question about Riverfront Park, Mr. Belloli said the next major phase should be done by June, although it may not open in June.

Ms. Dyda added a kiosk in the SouthSide Works was severely damaged by an impaired driver.

Questioned about the proposed marina on the site, Mr. Belloli called it a "definite maybe," noting the project requires a lot of permits, and the logistical challenges raised the cost considerably.

The next forum meeting will be on April 12.

 

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