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Appeal on table over Sewickley Country Inn zoning

| Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

While the former Sewickley Country Inn was demolished a year ago, a fight over the zoning of the land continues as borough leaders say legal costs are escalating.

Resident Michael Lyons filed a lawsuit in 2010 against Sewickley Borough and the zoning hearing board to fight rezoning that would enable office space and homes to be built on the former hotel site along Ohio River Boulevard.

Lyons lost in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court. This month, he appealed that decision to Commonwealth Court.

“I decided to file an appeal because the rezoning of the property, permitting commercial office buildings, was unlawful spot zoning that devalues the neighboring residential properties and violates our joint comprehensive zoning plan with Aleppo and Glen Osborne,” said Lyons, an attorney and former councilman.

“I believe that Judge (Joseph) James' ruling was incorrect, and that Commonwealth Court will reverse it.”

“Spot zoning” refers to singling out a parcel with a specific zoning designation that differs significantly from properties around it.

The property of the former hotel, which was built in the 1960s, is surrounded by residential and office properties.

Common Pleas Judge Joseph James agreed with the zoning board's decision — which it affirmed earlier this year — that Lyons did not meet the burden of proof that there is discriminatory spot zoning.

Lyons made additional arguments, and then won the right in Commonwealth Court to offer more testimony to the zoning hearing board last year.

The borough has spent more than $62,000 in legal fees from March 2010 through December 2013 on the case, records show.

“We are getting zero revenue,” Sewickley Councilman Tom DeFazio said. “We're not getting any real estate taxes, we're not getting any building permit fees, any earned income tax. The businesses aren't getting (more) business, so it results in a business privilege tax.

“As a taxpayer, I'm upset. I would think that a lot of other taxpayers in this borough — if they knew what was going on — would be upset as well.”

MCM Ventures, led by developer Cody Mueller, has proposed redeveloping the property it owns into office space and single-family homes. Mueller could not be reached for comment.

Sewickley officials rezoned the land after Mueller 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.

The property is assessed at $950,000, according to Allegheny County real estate records. It had been assessed at nearly $2.5 million before buildings were demolished.

Lyons said he will ask the Commonwealth Court to overturn James' ruling.

“I believe my position is sound, I have given no thought to further appeals,” he said.

Bobby Cherry is an associate editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-324-1408 or rcherry@tribweb.com.

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