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Zoning board could vote soon on Sewickley Country Inn site plans

| Wednesday, March 13, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Little is left of the Sewickley Country Inn, and soon, a nearly 3-year-old lawsuit arguing a borough-approved zoning change was spot zoning could be nearing an end.

Sewickley Zoning Hearing Board members could vote April 2 on whether the Ohio River Boulevard mixed-use-development zone approved in 2010 by council is a case of spot zoning, as lawyer and former Councilman Michael Lyons argues in a lawsuit.

That vote changed the former hotel site from a residentially zoned district to mixed-use development.

After the demise of the Country Inn in 2009, developer Cody Mueller — under the name MCM Ventures — presented plans to demolish the hotel's several buildings and replace them with office buildings along Route 65 and town homes along Thorn Street on the nearly 4 acres.

Sewickley Code Enforcement Officer Nancy Watts testified in front of the zoning hearing board last week the property always has had unique zoning classifications; it had been zoned for both residential and motel use over the course of its nearly 50 years before eventually being changed to the mixed-use development.

She and Sewickley borough manager Kevin Flannery testified that the property also has had a variety of uses in addition to its main use as a hotel.

Flannery, who said he worked at what then was the Holiday Inn in 1970, called the hotel one of the “premier places” at the time in the region, with its River Room restaurant and a bar.

Since the hotel closed in 2009, Flannery said, tax revenue from the site has declined.

The property is assessed at nearly $2.5 million, according to the Allegheny County assessment website.

Lyons argued the trial court “erred in exercising jurisdiction” over MCM's appeal from the zoning hearing board's denial of the development company's motion to declare Lyons' claim invalid, according to court documents.

In a decision last year, Commonwealth Court judges concluded the borough's public notices failed to comply with state law by being placed within a four-day span instead of a five-day window, which would constitute two consecutive weeks, according to court documents.

Crews began tearing down the former hotel in January.

Trespassers had gained access to motel rooms and other parts of the property since the inn closed, according to police reports.

Bobby Cherry is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-324-1408 or rcherry@tribweb.com.

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