Penn Hebron Garden Club reacts to rental issues

| Thursday, July 26, 2007

Members of the Penn Hebron Garden Club in Penn Hills say they will tighten rules for renting their facility to address concerns raised by neighbors about noise and unruly behavior.

Dr. Charles Stoner, whose home is located about 50 yards from the historic building, said the character of events at the garden club's facility has changed in the past several years from low-key family functions to raucous parties.

"For a number of years, the club was rented out with no problems," Stoner said during a recent Penn Hills Council meeting. "But times have changed, people have changed. We're tired of the loud music, foul language, firecrackers at any occasion, girls screaming in the parking lot so you are worried about their welfare."

Residents near the club on Jefferson Road say the problems came to a head last month when an estimated 100 people attending a graduation party spilled into the street screaming, followed by the sound of gunfire. Nobody was injured. No arrests were made.

Stoner said some neighbors would like to see the club shut down. Others, however, have come up with a list of solutions, including restricting rentals to daylight hours and hiring off-duty police officers to provide security during events.

Garden club members have apologized to Stoner and other neighbors, and vowed to make changes to deal with the problem.

"On behalf of all the garden club members, we are truly sorry for your inconvenience," said Patricia Carson, a 28-year member of the club and three-time past president.

"Yes, we do have problems at times, and we have taken some measures so it doesn't happen again," she said.

However, no longer renting the facility out is not an option because the revenue from rentals is the main source for money to maintain the historic building.

"Who's going to take care of that building if we are shut down?" Carson said. "You'll just have an empty building down there."

Carson said the June incident may have been sparked by party crashers, who nearly doubled the building's 100-person capacity.

In the future, the garden club will have someone on site during events to ensure that rules limiting its capacity and the prohibition against alcohol are being followed. Carson said the club cannot afford to hire police for security during events.

Coming up with a way to keep the music from disturbing neighbors is a trickier problem, Carson said. The building is not air-conditioned, so the windows must be kept open when events are held during warm weather.

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