Club developers, community get together to discuss differences
A follow up meeting between community members and representatives of a development group hoping to open an after-hours social club, the Polish American Citizens Club, at 2214 East Carson St. was contentious at best.
The Pittsburgh Zoning Board suggested the meeting to see if the community and the club developers could find any middle ground to compromise on concerning the opening of the private club on Carson Street. A hearing before the Zoning Board has been postponed until April 14.
Councilman Bruce Kraus facilitated the meeting on March 15 between the club's operator Thomas Barnes along with his attorney Ryan Wotus of Goldberg, Kamin & Garvin, L.L.P. and representatives of the South Side Planning Forum, neighbors of the proposed club and neighborhood residents.
Mr. Wotus noted the development group wasn't prepared to meet with the community again so soon and only did so after learning the meeting time and date had already been published in The South Pittsburgh Reporter last week. At the time of the meeting only three of nine requested documents had been made available to the Planning Forum: a photo of the location, a hand-drawn set of floor plans, and the Business Entity Filing from the Pennsylvania Department of State.
"We thought we would have more time," Mr. Wotus said.
During the meeting Mr. Barnes also provided membership application forms for several of the community members present. Additional documents requested included a roster of the board of directors and their affiliations; board meeting dates; the club's charter and bylaws; its mission statement; and, its most recent IRS 990.
Getting down to business, Mr. Barnes was questioned about the number of members the club currently has, he answered the club currently has "70-some" to 90 members. Members pay $20 membership dues.
Misi Bielich, from the South Side Slopes Neighborhood Assoc ., stated she took a vacation day to visit residents in Carson Towers, her former workplace, to get their opinion of the proposed social club. Residents told her they were concerned, now they can't sleep due to the noise from East Carson Street on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
"You're proposing to extend [their sleepless nights] for one more hour," Ms. Bielich said. "Another 100 people pouring out at 3 a.m. will keep them up one more hour."
"The place we're doing will be the nicest place on South Side," Mr. Barnes replied. He said in 30 years he's opened 33 places and in all that time he has only had two violations, both underage violations.
"It sort of got blown out of proportion."
He added reported problems at Chauncy's happened two years after the business had been sold. He said they hoped to "get some play" from some of the neighboring businesses and planned to be open from 4 or 5 p.m. until 3 a.m.
"I'm telling you," said Perry Sigesmend, owner of Perlora, "If this happens, you're going to lose a business like Perlora."
"I've designed and built townhouses on South Side for $750,000," local architect John Martine commented. "The kind of Carson Street we envisioned close to 40 years ago has turned into a saturation of bars."
"We can only address situations with our property," defended Mr. Wotus.
Wanda Jankoski, of the South Side Community Council, was concerned about the number of employees and how many parking spaces the club would have.
In addition to himself, Mr. Barnes said there would be two bartenders, two waitresses, a doorman, and someone in the kitchen making sandwiches. There are only two parking spaces for the club, but they would consider a valet service if there was a need.
Mr. Wotus said there are no plans for using the second and third floors of the building and they would put that as a condition of their zoning approval. They are not planning to have disc jockeys or bands.
"It will not be a gentleman's club," he added.
"What does the South Side get out of you coming down here," Councilman Kraus asked.
"We want a place where an older crowd can come," the attorney answered.
Mr. Barnes was questioned about the criteria for membership, who would be permitted to be a member.
"If you were a member of the Pagan motorcycle gang the board of directors might not approve you," he replied.
"If no one wants you here, why do you want to come to the South Side," Lawrence Scott of Pittsburgh Jean Co. questioned.
Rick Belloli, executive director of the South Side Local Development Company, asked if the club owners were interested in attracting an upscale audience, would they consider raising the membership fee up to $200 from the current $20 rate. Mr. Barnes said he would take the suggestion back to the board of directors.
Hugh Brannan, chair of the Planning Forum, said some of the questions remaining to be answered at the next meeting included whether the club met the criteria for being a fraternal organization; the credibility of the club's business plan; and, quality of life issues.
Representatives of the development group agreed to meet again with Planning Form representatives and neighborhood stakeholders on March 29 to try to hammer out their differences.