By Margaret Smyka
Contributing Writer 

South Side. Planning Forum united against club


April 19, 2011

The South Side Planning Forum opposes the special exception being sought to open a controversial after-hours "social club" at 2214 East Carson St.

Forum chair Hugh Brannan made the announcement at the forum's April 12 meeting.

The proposed upscale club in the vacant former St. Elmo's bookstore, to be called the Polish American Citizens Club of Western Pennsylvania, must obtain "special exception" approval from the Zoning Board as a social club is a special exception in a Local Neighborhood Commercial (LNC) district.

(The zoning meeting was held on April 14, and drew about 50 people opposed to the special exception. The board will issue its decision within 30 days.)

The main point of opposition is that another alcohol establishment — and with a 3 a.m. closing — compounds and extends the problems that afflict the East Carson St. corridor due to its proliferation of bars: public drunkenness, vandalism, drunk driving, public urination, litter, noise, fighting, and more.

After the forum's March 8 meeting, during which the club's development team made its presentation, all forum representatives reported back that their respective organizations were opposed to the club opening.

At that meeting, forum members requested copies of the organization's charter and bylaws, its mission statement, the membership application, and a list of board meeting dates. Those have since been submitted to the forum.

However, said Mr. Brannan, two requested documents have not been submitted: the board of directors' roster and affiliations, and a copy of the most recent IRS 990 documentation.

On April 12, the forum did receive email from attorney Ryan Wotus, of Goldberg, Kamin & Garvin, LLP, listing six conditions the applicant agreed to abide by in the operation of the business.

They are: no sanitation will be stored outdoors; employees will be required to park in an off-site location; at closing each day the club will remove debris from the sidewalk in front of the property; there will be no live music or disc jockey; the line outdoors will be limited to 10 people; and the applicant will patrol Carey Way in the rear of the property beginning at the close of business each day until employees are dismissed.

The club, a non-profit, membership-based organization, would occupy the building's 1,700-square-foot first floor. There would be a bar, kitchen, and dining area.

The hours of operation would be from 5 p.m. to 3 a.m., Monday through Sunday. Occupancy is about 99 people. Two parking spots are available in the garage behind the building.

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

The club currently has as many as 70 members, with the average age over 40. The anticipated total membership is about 500.

Its mission is to donate money to Light of Life Ministries and the local food bank.

Besides its after-hours nature, forum members have expressed concerns about the lack of a parking plan, and the involvement of unpaid consultant Thomas Jayson, who has been connected with numerous local nuisance bar establishments over the past decades.

In other news, Susie Puskar, neighborhood outreach coordinator for the South Side Local Development Company, said four finalists were interviewed on April 11 for the consultant position for the proposed Neighborhood Improvement District (NID) on the South Side.

The selection committee of the NID steering committee will choose the 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.

Ms. Puskar said the steering committee's guiding principles are that any plan needs to be efficient, and the community has to see a return on its investment.

The NID would not become law until passed by city council. Prior to the council vote, public meetings will be held.

In the LTV Steering Committee report, Judy Dyda, manager of community planning at the South Side LDC, said Phase IV construction of the South Side Riverfront Park is to be completed by the end of the month. The stage is under construction.

The CSX goal is to have the Conrail construction contract in place by August. Work would begin in November, with an end of 2012 completion.

With one final lender issue to resolve, Toby Keith's country-themed "I Love This Bar & Grill" hopes to close by the end of April. Construction would begin in May/June.

The planned marina at the site is slowly moving forward.

In the UPMC Steering Committee report, Ms. Dyda said the overall numbers are good at the South Side facility. The urgent care numbers are up, while the MRI numbers still need to be improved.

Two additional security persons have been added to the campus due to an increase in staffing numbers.

The Central Food Bank, which has been displaced by the closing of the Market House, will use the cafeteria on the fourth Saturday of each month to distribute more than 19,000 pounds of food to about 500 families.

Internal food service options are still being explored for employees whose schedules do not permit them to leave the building for meals. The goal is to have food service in place in the summer.

Regarding the neighborhood plan, Mr. Brannan said he was asked to convene a meeting of organizational presidents to look at plan items that might need to be revisited in light of the South Side LDC's plan to close.

The member organizations have assignments in the neighborhood plan. The South Side LDC serves as technical support.

The organizational presidents are: Paul Lorincy, South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association; Kim Collins, South Side Chamber of Commerce; Tracy Myers, South Side LDC; Joe Bielecki, South Side Community Council; and Jen Jeffers, Brashear Association.

The meeting also gives the groups a chance to look at their assignments and update them, said Ms. Dyda.

In the evening's sole presentation, the future of Schwartz Market was discussed by a family member.

Elisa Beck, whose husband's grandfather, Morris Schwartz, established the first store at 1505 East Carson St. in the 1920s, said "in its day" there were six Schwartz markets owned by the family throughout Pittsburgh.

The market at 1317 East Carson St. closed in its most recent form on March 5, and will reopen for limited hours.

On April 22, from 2 to 5 p.m., there will be a cleanup of the store. Volunteers are welcome.

On April 23, it will open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. to sell a limited amount of local and organic products, and to familiarize people with the transition and to answer any questions. Riders of the Pittsburgh Mini-Climate Ride bicycle ride will stop by to discuss the building project from 1:30-2 p.m.

That project includes these future plans for the building: sale of locally and organically raised and grown foods; a commercial kitchen where people can cook and sell the foods here or elsewhere; a bio-shelter which utilizes zero-net water and zero-net energy; housing for non-profits and for-profit green businesses; solar generation of electricity; and community gardens incorporating the creative arts into nutrition and health education.

A planning grant for integrative design has been submitted to help keep the building open.

Ms. Beck, one of the property owners, said her group has been approached by a beer distributor for the site.

"We don't want to see alcohol in that place," she said of the historic structure in an historic area.

Instead, the project has been registered as a "Living Building Challenge" which provides a framework for design and construction for the world's most advanced green building rating system.

The goal is to craft a design for a living building renovation of the historic structure.

Ms. Beck said she became interested in the field through her work as a developmental optometrist observing children with focusing problems.

"When there is too much environmental toxicity, and kids are internally polluted, no matter what I do I cannot help them.

"One in a hundred kids are on the autism spectrum — that is not good. We can reverse that through education, like explaining why we should not spray yards, and why water, air, and food are the most important for health.

"This [market building] is a cultural shifting project and demonstration that when people are empowered, we can change the world together," she said.

Ms. Beck welcomes email. Her address can be found at: http://1317eastcarson.

The next forum meeting will be on May 10.


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