Judge holds evidentiary hearing on Vocollect rezoning in Penn Hills
Property owner Joseph D'Andrea intends to present site plans for an office building that could expand Vocollect Inc.'s headquarters when the Penn Hills Planning Commission meets on Nov. 21.
But he and opponents of the long-contested development near the Rodi Road business district still are trying to hash out their differences.
It remained unclear as of Nov. 8 whether D'Andrea and residents critical of the project, including some who have fought it since the 1990s, had legally reached an agreement.
Penn Hills Council in July rezoned about 10 acres of D'Andrea's hilltop property off Maple Lane from the R-1A residential category to a blend of mixed use and conservation district to allow construction of a two-story office building.
The expansion would represent the first commercial development in the area to cross the Penn Hills-Wilkins Township boundary, which was also in legal dispute for a number of years.
Vocollect, a technology company that leases the property, has said it wants to consolidate employees that now are in Penn Hills and Monroeville into one location.
A group of residents who live near the parcel challenged the rezoning in August in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas.
Following an Oct. 28 hearing to settle a question over whether D'Andrea and the residents had come to an agreement, the case was continued for two weeks.
D'Andrea's attorney, Thomas Ayoob, said in a Sept. 5 court filing that the three residents appealing the zoning change — Gregory Swatchick, Veronica Deer and Edward Gandy — along with 13 other residents “reached a settlement with D'Andrea.”
A settlement was referenced at the meeting where council OK'd the rezoning.
Thomas Castello, attorney for Swatchick, Deer and Gandy, said that isn't the case because the agreement wasn't signed and no “meeting of the minds” was reached.
Swatchick said the proposal for an agreement was presented to four residents, for the first time in writing, literally 10 minutes before the council meeting started.
Also, it was significantly different from terms and conditions discussed at two prior negotiating sessions, he said.
“They kept moving the goal line,” Swatchick said.
Ayoob wrote in his filing that attorney Jonathan Kamin, who handled previous appeals for the larger group of residents, had confirmed a final agreement was reached.
But Castello wrote in a filing that Kamin wasn't authorized to accept an agreement, outside the scope of authority his clients gave him.
Castello also wrote that Kamin didn't circulate the proposed agreement for signatures. Kamin couldn't be reached for comment.
Swatchick said the Oct. 28 hearing was “very unique” and included testimony from Kamin and residents.
“I think the judge is very good,” he said of Judge Joseph James. “There were a lot of good exchanges and (the hearing) lasted all day.”
Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or firstname.lastname@example.org.