Business proposals gain traction with city council

Two unrelated business proposals encountered vehement opposition from residents at a City Council meeting Wednesday, but council ultimately backed both in split votes – after rejecting moves to postpone the decisions.

Council abandoned a short stretch of Oneida Avenue in Allegheny Furnace, allowing the Gingrich insurance agency to build an addition, using the added space – plus a grassy tract recently acquired from the city Redevelopment Authority – for parking.

Council also agreed to take over noise enforcement from the state Liquor Control Board at the Cesare Battisti club in Eldorado, allowing the club to petition the Liquor Board to hold outdoor music events.

The opposition to the Gingrich project was more numerous – as expressed in an 88-signature petition, and complaints at the meeting about loss of access and green space, additional traffic, the low price and low profile of the land sale to Gingrich early this year and uncertainty whether the firm would actually follow through after getting the street.

Gingrich President Gary Gingrich countered with his attorney, Rick Gieg, and supporters Bill Haberstroh – former Blair County district attorney – and former downtown businessman Don Brett, after presenting a petition with 20 names recently.

Gingrich was committed to do the project if the city abandoned Oneida, Gieg said.

If denied, the firm could go elsewhere to expand, leading to a third business vacancy on that stretch of Logan Boulevard, Haberstroh said.

A former doughnut shop and a former ice cream shop just south of Gingrich have been closed for years.

Gingrich’s proposal is “phenomenal” and the firm is one of the city’s best business tenants, Brett said.

“Very, very, very few cars” travel that stretch of Oneida, Haberstroh added.

One of the opposition ringleaders, Gabe Pellegrini, proposed postponing the decision and forming a committee of opponents, advocates and council members to discuss the matter and come up with a mutually acceptable proposal.

When it came time to vote on adoption of the abandonment ordinance, council asked the Gingrich advocates whether they’d accept that offer.

“You can’t cut the project in half,” Gieg said, flatly rejecting the offer to set up a “dialog.”

The issue tested council members’ commitment to be both business- and neighborhood-friendly, according to Councilman Dave Butterbaugh.

But he came down on the side of the project, and ultimately, it was a “no brainer,” he said.

“I’m not buying your argument,” he told the neighbors. He specifically mentioned traffic – and the city’s count showed that only 103 vehicles passed over the stretch in the average 24 hours on midweek days.

The risk in calling for a showdown paid off, as only Mark Geis and Mayor Bill Schirf voted against the abandonment ordinance, with Schirf explaining that neighborhood protection won out over jobs.

On the Cesare Battisti issue, the petition majority was on the business side – with only one household opposed among 36.

Four residents showed up, however, to fight the proposal Wednesday.

“It’s a bit much” to come home from work stressed and ready to relax only to encounter amplified music from the parking lot next door, neighbor Donna Quatrara told council.

“How would you feel?” she asked rhetorically.

“At our age, we deserve peace and quiet,” said Joann Lascoli, 86, who said when the club held events last year before a complaint ended them, the noise vibrated her porch and made it impossible to talk normally there.

The club was only planning to hold outdoor events with music once or twice a week and had no plans to create a “rock and roll” outpost in Eldorado, said club Vice President Mike Provenzano.

Only four neighbors objected and lots more welcomed the music, Provenzano said.

Even if the city approved, and the LCB approved, its license would only be for a year, before a board review, Clapper said.

But Geis, always a neighborhood advocate, moved to table a decision in favor of a test to learn how it would sound to play music in compliance with the city ordinance that restricted the noise at the property perimeter to 62 decibels, the volume of normal conversation.

The move failed – with Geis, Schirf and Dave Butterbaugh the only ones in favor.

The vote on the actual resolution also went in favor of music – with the other councilmen – Bruce Kelley, Erik Cagle, Bill Neugebauer and Mike Haire approving.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.