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D'Andrea, Penn Hills residents sign settlement agreement

| Wednesday, March 19, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Patrick Varine | Penn Hills Progress
Above, one of two buildings leased by Vocollect Inc., on Wilkins Township property owned by Joe D'Andrea. Attorneys for D'Andrea, Penn Hills and two groups of residents came to settlement terms March 5 which will allow D'Andrea to build on the Penn Hills side of the boundary.

After legal battles and more than $12,000 in taxpayer money spent in the past seven years, the matter of Joseph D'Andrea's proposed property expansion is settled.

Attorneys representing D'Andrea, the Municipality of Penn Hills, and two groups of residents agreed to settlement terms, according to a consent order issued March 5 by Court of Common Pleas Judge Joseph James.

D'Andrea and residents living near his 10-acre property on Maple Lane have fought since 1994 over his proposed rezoning and expansion plans, which include the construction of an office building intended to allow Vocollect Inc. to consolidate its employees into one location.

Vocollect, which produces voice recognition software, leases a Wilkins Township property which D'Andrea also owns. D'Andrea and attorneys representing the various sides of dispute did not respond to calls for comment.

The settlement sets restrictions on the number (two) and size (35 feet) of future buildings.

It also required residents to drop their pending appeal against council's July 2013 rezoning decision, and restricts them from objecting to future plans for the property. The appeal was dropped on March 10, county court documents show.

Gramac Lane resident Greg Swatchick, who has been part of the residents' group since the mid-1990s, said he is disappointed in the outcome.

“D'Andrea bought land that he knew was (zoned) residential, and then tried time and again to get the zoning changed,” Swatchick said.

“And Penn Hills (officials) stuck to their guns. And after all that investment by the neighbors, and all the investment by Penn Hills to protect their residents, after spending all these resources, they end up giving it away.”

A Right-to-Know request filed by the Progress showed that between 2006 and the end of 2013 — roughly a third of the time the dispute has been going on — legal fees paid to Penn Hills solicitors tallied $11,787. That figure is not comprehensive even for the seven-year period, however, because some bills from one solicitor, Bruce Dice & Associates, do not include a line-by-line accounting, only bills in separate categories such as “litigation” and “professional services.”

Other costs borne by the municipality and its taxpayers include $37,270.19, the final billing amount for the court-appointed boundary commission that ascertained the actual location of the Penn Hills-Wilkins boundary line in the late 1990s.

On the residents' side, Swatchick had bills and receipts for more than $23,000 spent between 1994 and 2014.

That number does not include attorneys' fees for the resident group which did not join Swatchick in appealing the Penn Hills council's 2013 decision to finally rezone D'Andrea's property.

Swatchick said previous Penn Hills administrations sided with homeowners.

“They helped define the line, they put up the ($25,000) bond (which ultimately resulted in the $37,270.19 bill),” he said.

“The mission of previous administrations all along seemed to be to protect the interests of the neighbors, their residents.”

Swatchick said the effort of past administrations “is now being squandered for the tax dollars and jobs.

“There is dubious distinction that this council has, different from previous councils, completely reversed course,” Swatchick said.

Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or pvarine@tribweb.com.

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