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Lower Burrell Zoning Board backs tire shop

| Tuesday, May 21, 2013, 12:11 a.m.

Despite a change in Lower Burrell's zoning ordinance earlier this year, the legal battle over a tire shop on Leechburg Road continues.

The city's zoning hearing board on Monday unanimously granted Sam Jenniches Jr. permission to reopen T.N.A. Tire over the objections of nearby business owner Jamie Morabito and his attorney, Rachel Riedel.

The tire shop will be located at 3162 Leechburg Road, across from Burrell Plaza.

Jenniches was forced to relocate his tire business to New Kensington last year after a Westmoreland County Court judge ruled the city's zoning hearing board had improperly granted a variance allowing the business to operate in a C-2 commercial zone. Auto repair businesses then were limited to C-1 and C-3 commercial zones as well as manufacturing zones.

Morabito, owner of Morabito Motors located two doors down from T.N.A., in 2010 challenged the variance that was granted to T.N.A. property owner Larry Newman and his then-tenant, Donald W. Mellon, who has since died. Jenniches took over the tire business from Mellon; Newman still owns the property.

Morabito argued Newman and Mellon did not demonstrate a hardship that prevented them from opening a business that would be a permitted use in the C-2 zone. Newman had testified at a 2010 zoning hearing that the building had been used for other purposes in the past and was in use as a wrestling gym at the time.

Judge Richard E. McCormick Jr. agreed with Morabito's assessment and in June 2012 ruled the zoning hearing board was wrong when it issued the variance.

Based on McCormick's ruling, city Solicitor Stephen Yakopec last October asked the court to force Jenniches to close his shop.

However, city council last month changed the zoning ordinance to now permit auto-repair shops in C-2 zones by special exception.

Mayor Don Kinosz at the time said the change helped modernize the ordinance and make it consistent with businesses operating in the city.

Morabito earlier this month challenged the change in Westmoreland County Court, claiming council and the planning commission did not properly advertise its intent to change the ordinance.

The city has not formally responded to the lawsuit and no decision has been made.

Meanwhile, Jenniches applied for a special exception under the amended ordinance to reopen the shop.

Jenniches on Monday told the zoning hearing board he would like to operate the business in both New Kensington and Lower Burrell. In addition to selling tires, he plans to offer vehicle inspections and minor auto repair and detailing work.

“We were doing quite a nice little business,” Jenniches said. “We serviced a lot of people in the town, plus we bring them in from out of town.”

Jenniches said he didn't object to stipulations of the planning commission and zoning hearing board that he spruce up the property and fence in a small area behind the building for temporary storage of used tires. Jenniches said he would not be storing junk cars on the lot.

Zoning Hearing Board Chairman George Guido attempted to read the recommendations of the planning commission and Zoning Officer Mike Nedley. But Riedel objected to the inclusion of that information in the meeting minutes because she did not have the opportunity to cross-examine Nedley or Planning Commission Chairman Ray Rieser.

Riedel said she felt the zoning board shouldn't grant Jenniches' request because he did not provide proof that the business would have the required number of parking spaces and meet setback requirements. Jenniches said the business met the standards but couldn't supply verification Monday night.

Riedel also questioned whether the T.N.A. property bordered residences. Jenniches said a rental house is behind a catering business next door, but it is on a commercially zoned lot.

David Phillips, owner of the neighboring Creative Catering and the rental house, said he welcomes the return of T.N.A.'s business.

He said it is Morabito's business, which uses a parking lot behind T.N.A. that is accessed by an alley between T.N.A. and Phillips' property, that causes him concern in the way of traffic.

“The more businesses down here, the more choices we have, the better,” Phillips said.

“I don't have a problem with him being there,” Morabito told the zoning board. “The rules are not being followed.”

Morabito and Riedel left immediately after the board's ruling; it was not clear if they plan to appeal the decision before a county judge.

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or lhayes@tribweb.com.

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