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McKeesport Zoning Board denies gentlemen's club occupancy permit

| Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, 3:51 a.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
McKeesport's busy Walnut Street corridor is reflected in a mirrored glass door at the site of Saints and Sinners, a proposed gentlemen's club that is mired in controversy.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Attorney Brad Sommer, right, speaks on behalf of his client Scott Birdseye during a zoning hearing regarding an appeal by Saints and Sinners in McKeesport on Monday.

McKeesport's zoning board has denied Birdseye Enterprises LLC's appeal for an occupancy permit to open the proposed Saints and Sinners gentlemen's club.

The board conducted a hearing on June 30 to consider building inspector Chris House's February denial of the occupancy permit. House's decision was based on Birdseye's application for a proposed eating and drinking establishment, while advertisements and word-of-mouth indicated plans to open a gentlemen's club with female dancers.

Zoning board chairman James Haughey said the board's decision was not based on the nature of the proposed business, but rather the disclosure involved in the application process.

“It was procedural,” Haughey said. “They applied for a restaurant/bar and were not planning to open a restaurant/bar.”

Attorney Ryan Tutera, solicitor for the zoning board, said the board's decision is not an attempt to regulate a particular type of business. It rather addresses the application's procedural defects.

“The opinion is straightforward,” Tutera said of the legal decision he prepared and provided to Birdseye's attorney Brad Sommer on Thursday. “They lied on their application. They made some material misstatements of fact.”

Just as Tutera explained during the June zoning hearing, he said Birdseye's business plan was unclear.

“If you look at all the exhibits that we stipulated to, they said different things to different bodies,” Tutera said. “It proves what we've been saying all along. They've been trying to circumvent the system. They should have applied for a variance all along.”

When House denied Scott Birdseye's application for an occupancy permit in February, he suggested that Birdseye apply for a variance to operate a gentlemen's club, as advertised, and instead the application was altered to reflect a proposed eating and drinking establishment.

A letter from Sommer indicated there were no plans to apply for a state Liquor Control Board alcohol sales license or an Allegheny County Health Department food sales permit.

“We heard about pre-packaged foods, and I want to be clear that we are talking about vending machine items, which clearly is not a restaurant or bar by the literal definition stated in our zoning ordinance,” House testified in June.

Because Birdseye Enterprises LLC was directed to apply for a variance and chose another route, Tutera said the application process was muddied.

“The Board was ready and willing to afford the Applicant due process,” the legal opinion states. “However, the Applicant decided to withdraw his initial application and submit an entirely new application with a conjured business purpose.”

In June, Sommer testified that the business model for Saints and Sinners, which was planned for operation in the former Chick's Grill at 3711 Walnut St., had changed several times since it first was proposed in November 2013. He said Birdseye Enterprises had “gone to great lengths” to cooperate with city officials, including House, Mayor Michael Cherepko and Solicitor J. Jason Elash, on following protocol for opening a new business prior to taking the matter to Allegheny County Common Pleas Court. Judge Joseph James dismissed the case in June because of the issue pending before McKeesport's zoning board.

The proposed business was subject to months of public scrutiny, including protests and prayer services, in which area residents voiced their desire to keep Saints and Sinners out of McKeesport's Christy Park neighborhood.

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956.