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Sewickley resident files appeal of zoning board's decision on property

| Wednesday, June 12, 2013, 7:17 p.m.

A Sewickley resident has filed an appeal in an ongoing battle over zoning at the former Sewickley Country Inn site, and borough leaders say the legal bills are adding up.

Michael Lyons last month filed an appeal to the Sewickley zoning hearing board's April decision upholding a July 2010 borough council vote changing the now-former Country Inn zoning to a mixed-use development.

“I appealed the zoning board decision because it was wrong and unfair to neighbors whose properties may well decline in value as a result of the rezoning,” Lyons said.

“What I hope to achieve is that the zoning reverts back to R-2.”

Lyons filed an initial lawsuit in 2010 after the change was made challenging the validity of the ordinance.

The lawsuit led to a Commonwealth Court decision in 2012 that said the zoning board should hear the challenge.

The board's 12-page April decision said creation of an Ohio River Boulevard Mixed-Use District “does not create a situation where the property is being treated unjustifiably different from similar surrounding land.”

Members Gary Gladowski and Robert Lavery wrote the opinion, while Chairman James Eichenlaub recused himself in February because of what he termed a conflict of interest.

Through May 20, legal fees related to the borough for the Country Inn lawsuit have totaled $56,100, according to borough Manager Kevin Flannery.

Council President Bob Hague said development at the former motel and banquet site is stymied, saying borough taxpayers are “being held hostage” by the lawsuit.

Lyons contends Hague “wasted over two years and over $50,000 in legal fees on” what he called “spurious objections” to his suit filed by the borough.

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 townhomes along Thorn Street on the nearly 4 acres. The property is assessed at nearly $2.5 million, according to Allegheny County records.

Borough leaders say a mixed-use zone could offer additional tax revenue from the business-privilege tax imposed on people employed at any future commercial development and also from earned-income taxes collected by future residents.

Crews began tearing down the former motel in January, but no plans for construction have been finalized.

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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