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Convenience store gets variance

Owner of former Rubine’s bar wants to launch new business

In a split vote, the Altoona Zoning Hearing Board Wednesday granted a variance that will allow a property owner to turn his former bar on Eighth Street near Second Avenue into a convenience store.

The store will feature sandwiches and a few skill games.

Entwined in the case is a problem endemic to older city neighborhoods — a shortage of parking.

It’s a problem that might have stressed an old friendship.

Five years ago, Michael Rubine retired from Rubine’s Bar, in which he’d been involved for 50 years, but he recently decided to reopen the space as a convenience store to keep himself occupied and to help two sons, he told the board.

Rubine needed a variance, because permission to operate the nonconforming bar in that multi-household residential zone had lapsed after 12 months of disuse.

Rubine’s friend Lawrence Peck, who owns property nearby, objected Wednesday, after Rubine made his case to the board.

“I hate to be here,” Peck said. “Mike and I have been friends a long time.”

But despite Rubine’s claims that there weren’t complaints about parking when he ran the bar, parking has always been a problem in that area, Peck said.

Bar customers would park in spaces adjacent to neighboring properties whose owners felt entitled to those spaces, causing resentment and forcing those property owners to resort to spaces where other neighbors also felt entitled, adding to the resentment, Peck said.

Bar customers also parked frequently on the no-parking side of Eighth Street, Peck said.

“It causes discontent,” Peck said. “I would be against anything that created more vehicles in the neighborhood that the neighborhood can’t support.”

If the situation were in Rubine’s home area, he would object too, said Virginia Eichenlaub, a neighbor who came to the hearing with Peck.

The congestion around the bar caused by traffic, coupled with the narrow streets and the many parked vehicles, often caused accidents, Eichenlaub said.

Eichenlaub’s testimony seemed to shock Rubine.

He never realized how she felt about the bar’s effect on the neighborhood, he said. “She’s so nice of a lady,” he added.

“We always had good rapport with our neighbors,” said Rubine’s sister, Gina Riley, who expects to be part of the convenience store operation.

“It’s a terrible situation,” Peck said.

His testimony about it “will probably come between our friendship” — although he hopes he’s wrong, Peck added. “But I felt I had to address this.”

Peck and Eichenlaub made it “tough” for the board, which needs to balance competing interests, said board solicitor Bill Stokan.

Parking may be a problem in that neighborhood, but owners are entitled to reasonable use of their properties under zoning law, the solicitor said.

Someone mentioned the option for Rubine of turning the former bar space into an apartment.

But apartment tenants might have cars, and friends with cars who visit, and they too would add to the parking problem, Stokan said.

The convenience store, which Rubine proposed to open only until 7 p.m. and only on weekdays, would actually create far less parking pressure than the bar did, because patrons would be “in and out,” fewer in number and present on fewer days per week, according to Rubine.

It would be a “far less onerous” use than the bar, Stokan said after the meeting.

And the inconvenience of limited parking at the convenience store would naturally tend to limit the number of drive-up customers, Stokan said.

Three board members participated in the meeting, with Horace McAnuff and Cory Gehret voting to grant the variance and Matt Gindlesperger voting to deny.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.

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