Proposed Mt. Pleasant VFW relocation site faces a backlash
Roughly 50 Mt. Pleasant residents have signed a petition filed recently with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board's Bureau of Licensing protesting the proposed new location for the Bunton-Malek VFW Post 3368 in the borough.
The building where the nonprofit, veterans' services organization aims to relocate is a one-story structure at 105 S. Quarry St. directly across from Barbara Magyor's home.
“I don't know why they would want to put it here,” said Magyor, 70, who signed the petition.
Of particular concern, Magyor said, is the post's application for a license to serve alcoholic beverages from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.
In January, the local VFW post inked the purchasing pact with Robert F. Smithnosky Jr., for the building currently occupied by RFSJ Inc., Smithnosky's specialty glassware business.
“We've already put a down payment on (the new property),” said Joe Bauer, a U.S. Navy veteran and a former post commander who still oversees the organization's finances.
Magyor said other neighbors are also perplexed by the move.
“We were all disappointed to learn the VFW was going to move here,” Magyor said.
U.S. Army Reserve Maj. Promotable Brian Barnhart, an Iraq war veteran, past post commander and current trustee, is disappointed by the stance taken by those who signed the petition, he said.
“I don't know why anybody is against it. We have a bar, but that's not what we are,” Barnhart said. “We do so much for veterans' groups, and we are primarily a veterans' service organization.”
Fellow South Quarry Street resident Johanna Kraisinger organized and circulated the petition opposing the organization's application for a liquor license.
“Somebody has to take charge, so that's what I did. And every resident in this neighborhood agrees with me,” Kraisinger said.
Kraisinger subsequently filed the petition to the state board within the requisite 30-day period.
The petition is proof, she said, that many people who live in her neighborhood do not want the VFW post to relocate there.
“This is a group effort,” she said.
However, the move is not meant to be a slight against the military veterans the organization was founded to serve since it was granted its national charter in 1935.
“It has nothing to do with the military. I've lost relatives in the war, there have been POWs in my family who served, and my husband served. We are not against any veterans' group,” Kraisinger said. “We're talking about a bar. And it is a social club. Members who are not veterans can belong, too.”
And bars, which serve alcohol, can beget problems for an otherwise peaceful neighborhood, she added.
“Bars bring in things you don't want: gambling, people smoking outside, people urinating outside, traffic through the neighborhood on Sunday, and customers taking peoples' parking spaces,” Kraisinger said.
With particular concerns regarding the kind of traffic the post's relocation could create, Ruth Kohuth of 108 S. Quarry St. said she signed the petition as soon as she had the chance.
“One big problem I have is that there is not really adequate parking for anyone who would be coming and going from there,” said Kohuth, eyeing her Chevrolet Silverado parked along the street directly across from the proposed VFW location.
“I worry that people leaving might crunch my vehicle,” she said.
However, Bauer said there would be 17 parking spaces available for those spending time at the post.
“We actually have 13 spots, and in the back we can make four more,” Bauer said.
He added that amount of parking spaces will suffice.
“Anybody who has gone by the VFW the past couple years, they know the parking at the new location is going to be adequate,” Bauer said. “And if we get a boom in membership, they'll look to expand and move because then they won't have the parking space there.”
The decision to move came after roughly a year's worth of discussion between the post's officers, its board of trustees and its members.
A need to downsize from the hulking, two-story structure along West Main Street the group had long occupied is at the center of the strategy.
Gas bills there ranged from $1,000 to $1,500, and electric bills often totaled $800, Bauer said. At the proposed location, all utilities combined are projected to cost no more than $400 each month, he added.
In addition, a shortfall in eligible officers, dwindling membership and legal restrictions to gaming practices have made it harder to make ends meet at the post's former site, Bauer said.
“Eighty percent of the post's members voted to make this move,” he said.
The pending relocation presents the post with a chance to reinvigorate the foundation of the organization designed to offer local veterans a place to go to be with their own, Barnhart said.
“I'm just looking to keep the VFW alive in Mt. Pleasant, that's why we initiated the move to that location,” Barnhart said. “It's smaller and there is less overhead, so hopefully the Mt. Pleasant VFW will be here for a long time.”
Bauer plans to speak with signees
In response to the petition, Bauer said, he recently completed a written request for a copy of it. He said he intends to speak personally with those who signed it to give them a better idea of the post's intentions at the proposed relocation site.
“They had their right to file that, but it's also veterans like us who fought for their right to file that petition,” Bauer said. “I can't stress enough, we're not a bar, this is not a bar. This is a place where we can have our monthly meetings, the (post) auxiliary can do the same, along with the Cub Scouts.”
Shawn Kelly, deputy director of external affairs for the state liquor control board's bureau of licensing, recently confirmed that the agency “has received timely protests regarding this licensee.”
“Because the investigation is open and ongoing, we are unable to release any additional information at this time,” Kelly said.
A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.