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Rezoning proposal for former Hempfield golf course to go to mediation

Matthew Santoni
| Monday, Nov. 28, 2016, 11:05 p.m.

The owner of a former Hempfield golf course avoided a long and potentially contentious meeting before the board of supervisors Monday by seeking mediation over a proposed rezoning of the land.

Mark Allison, who closed the former Scenic Links of Westmoreland golf course in October 2015 after just one season of owning it, had proposed to subdivide about 20 acres surrounding Birdies Pub and Grille and rezone it for commercial use. The other 85 acres of the course were to remain zoned for agriculture, where the golf course and bar were originally conditional and accessory uses approved by the township.

Neighbors and concerned residents filled the board's chambers to standing-room only and signed up as “objectors” to the proposed rezoning. But Allison's attorney, Kevin McKeegan, invoked the state's municipal zoning code that let him, an attorney for one of the neighbors and the township solicitor choose a mediator to handle the zoning dispute at a later date.

“We're really kind of between a rock and a hard place,” McKeegan said. “We have an existing business people for the most part don't want to see shut down, but we have neighbors who don't want to see a sledgehammer-like rezoning process.”

McKeegan emphasized the mediation would be open to the public. He would work with Daniel Hewitt, the attorney for one of the neighbors, to choose a mediator, set rules for the process and set a date for a hearing, the results of which would be brought back to the board of supervisors.

“When I moved to this community, it had a lovely golf course, it was quiet ... I did not choose to have all the things that local commercial zoning could bring,” neighbor Dominick Domasky said. He and others were concerned that Allison could sell the property once it had been rezoned and his relationships with the neighbors would mean nothing.

Hempfield solicitor Scott Avolio said the township would provide notification for the next meeting on the property once decisions were made about how the mediation would proceed.

In other action, the board approved rezoning part of the property owned by St. Emma's Monastery from residential back to agricultural use. The Benedictine nuns of St. Emma's had owned the land since 1944 and had always had either a resident farmer or someone leasing the land as pasture for cows.

“We had chased cattle ourselves as part of our services,” said Mother Mary Ann Noll, prioress at the monastery.

“They were Holsteins so it's kind of hard to tell,” she added in a nod to the nuns' black-and-white habits.

The board unanimously approved the rezoning, undoing what chairman R. Douglas Weimer said was an inadvertant effect of a township-wide rezoning in 2014 that the nuns hadn't weighed in on.

The board also approved a subdivision plan that would allow PennDOT to build a compressed natural gas fueling station at the Westmoreland County Transit Authority's bus garage off Business Route 66 starting next year.

The state will cover the $4 million cost of installing the new refueling depot, and the transit authority will start converting its 41-bus fleet from diesel to CNG when 23 buses are up for replacement next year.

Matthew Santoni is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6660 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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