South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

 
 

By Margaret Smyka
Contributing Writer 

Butta-Bing owner meet with members of the neighborhood

 

July 19, 2011



How do you trust a man to operate an upstanding business when he allows the property to deteriorate into an eyesore, and does not pay city or school taxes for three years?

There are about 18 citations on the property dating from 2005 to 2010.

The building is also condemned.

Such was some of the neighborhood criticism leveled during a July 13 community meeting at Daniel Smithbower, who wants to reopen the Butta Bing adult entertainment club at 1885 Saw Mill Run Blvd (Route 51).

The meeting at Fairhaven Community Church was moderated by Carol Anthony, president of the Overbrook Community Council, and city Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak.

Mr. Smithbower presented a brief overview of his plans, and fielded questions. Jason Kambitsis, of City Planning, explained the zoning process.

Among the roughly 50 attendees were city council members Pres. Darlene Harris and Bruce Kraus, and Zone 3 Commander Catherine McNeilly.

As applicant and property owner, Mr. Smithbower is seeking reconstruction of a non-conforming use of an adult entertainment club. The use is a special exception in a highway commercial (HC) zoning district.

At the original hearing before the city's Zoning Board of Adjustment on June 9, a continuance was granted to allow time for the Overbrook Community Council to obtain legal counsel.

In the days prior to the hearing, a community meeting drew about 10 residents who complained about potential adverse effects from adult entertainment including sex-related crimes, drug trafficking, racketeering, drunk driving, parking problems, and traffic congestion.

At the July 13 meeting, Ms. Rudiak urged attendees to voice their concerns at the Zoning Board of Adjustment Hearing at 10:20 a.m. on July 21 at 200 Ross St. in the 1st floor hearing room.

Residents unable to attend the hearing could email her a letter that she would present to the board.

The Zoning Board of Adjustment has 45 days to issue its decision.

Mr. Smithbower said he will be represented at the hearing by First Amendment attorney Luke Lirot, of Clearwater, Florida. Mr. Lirot will also hire the club's management team if approval is secured.

Mr. Smithbower's plans for the entertainment venue, featuring what he called "First Amendment protected dance performances," involve demolishing the current 50'x 60' structure and replacing it with a building of 48'x 60'.

It would remain three-story, with a first floor stage; second floor kitchen and bar; and a third floor of dressing rooms, an office and storage space.

There would be 20-plus parking spaces, with overflow cars parking in the lots of neighboring businesses' which grant permission. Valet parking is also an option.

Off-duty police officers will be utilized at the door. There will be a "zero tolerance policy," he said as "security is key."

In response to questioning, Mr. Smithbower said while he did not pay taxes from 2008 to 2011, he inquired about payment plan options, and intends to pay.

As for the building's condemnation in 2009, Mr. Kambitsis said until a building is actually demolished, it is a continuing process as improvements can be made to bring a property up to code.

Mr. Smithbower, of Murrysville, said the site was never a nuisance property in its 30 years of adult entertainment, which included Sonny Dayes (1978-1990) and Bottoms Up (1990-2005). Originally, the property was approved in 1978 as a cocktail lounge.

He took possession of the property in 2005 several months before Bottoms Up closed following a fire that destroyed much of the structure. The ensuing legal battles waged for years, he said. To help finance those battles, he sold the liquor license. He is confident he can secure another license should approval be granted.

Once the legalities were settled in 2009, he met with the building inspector.

So there was no abandonment, he said, in response to a strategy raised at the meeting for preventing the reopening: proving abandonment of the adult entertainment use when it closed after the fire.

Mr. Kambitsis said abandonment is a legal issue, with broad criteria. But intent is crucial.

Mr. Smithbower also said the legal battles kept him from

 

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