Penn Hills council approves new Vocollect zoning amendment
Penn Hills council voted 4-1 on July 15 in favor of a new ordinance re-zoning about 10 acres off Rodi Road near Maple Lane and paving the way for potential expansion of the Vocollect business.
Despite a similar vote in November 2012 —which resulted in a lawsuit against the municipality by a development corporation and a group of residents who live near the proposed expansion — council, on the advice of the municipality's solicitor and insurance company, initiated a new ordinance that they feel will stand up better to legal scrutiny.
One of the linchpins of the suit brought by the Chatelain Corporation and several residents is that in the November 2012 vote, council approved a straightforward zoning amendment, while the request made by property owners Joseph and Enrichetta D'Andrea was for a curative amendment.
At council's July 15 meeting, the D'Andrea's attorney, Thomas Ayoob, said his clients had reached an agreement with residents involved in the lawsuit and others in the neighborhood. That agreement was presented to council, but the copy on file in the municipal planning office does not contain any signatures.
Greg Swatchick of Penn Hills, who is a party to the lawsuit and has been fighting the D'Andrea's expansion plans since the mid-'90s, said the agreement was presented to him literally 10 minutes before council's meeting began, and Swatchick said the attorney representing Chatelain and the residents, Jonathan Kamin, told him that if any residents objected to the re-zoning, the D'Andreas would back out of the agreement.
“We felt all jammed up,” Swatchick said. “(Kamin) said that we had to accept it. If we opposed it or even mentioned the word ‘agreement' or mentioned the deal, the deal blows up.”
The agreement, on file at the Penn Hills Planning Department, includes among its provisions:
• There shall be no limitation on the number of structures that can be built on the property.
• Any resident who signs on agrees that they will “not object to any plans of the developer to improve the property so long as said plans comport with the developer's covenants ... for the purpose of the agreement, ‘object' or ‘objection' means the participation at any public meetings or hearings and/or the filing of any legal challenges to approvals granted by Penn Hills or any other applicable governmental authority or the funding of other parties who object to the developer's plans.”
• The residents agree to settle and discontinue the pending litigation.
In addition to the lawsuit, an appeal of council's November 2012 decision to the Penn Hills Zoning Hearing Board is scheduled to take place July 24.
Neither Kamin nor Ayoob returned calls seeking comment.
Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or firstname.lastname@example.org.