Citizens debate plan for Homer City distillery while borough officials pause to research issue
By Greg Reinbold
Published: Thursday, April 4, 2013, 8:55 p.m.
The Homer City planning commission last Thursday opted to delay making a recommendation to borough council on the proposed Main Street microdistillery, Disobedient Spirits, LLC.
That didn't keep interested parties from crowding Tuesday night's council meeting to again voice their opinions on the issue.
The next planning commission meeting is slated for 5:30 p.m. April 23 and will be moved from its normal location at the borough building to the Homer City fire hall in anticipation of another large crowd.
“It has been tabled for further research by the planning commission. Once they have reached a decision, that will come back to council for additional research,” council President Richard Morris explained. “We don't have the answers that you're looking for. Not yet... We'll have to have those questions answered first by (the planning commission) and then we will put them on the table and present them to the council.”
The proposed location of the distillery was chief among the arguments against allowing the business to open. It would operate and offer samples and sales of its product in the former supermarket building beside Homer City United Methodist Church, which hosts Indiana Area Celebrate Recovery group meetings on Thursday nights for people “dealing with their life's hurts, hang-ups and habits.”
“We want to consider what's right and what's sensitive and what's helpful to the community, not only economically, but in terms of its morale, the town's image,” said HCUMC pastor Rev. Joe Stains. “Do we want to be known as the place that will offer free samples or even minimally charged samples on Sunday afternoon and evening when Indiana and Blairsville will not? Is that our contribution to Indiana County?
“You can't put a price on doing the right thing. There can be appropriate locations to these businesses, but directly next door to a place that's trying to do something for these people? Consider that very carefully.”
Retired Indiana University of Pennsylvania geography professor Bob Begg, who is hoping to open Disobedient Spirits with fellow IUP geography professor Bob Sechrist, attempted to address concerns.
“We're going to occupy the half of the building next to a bar (Our Place, at 38 S. Main Street),” Begg said. “We will not be next to (the church). We will not be offering free samples and we don't really see any reason why we need to be open on Sunday. We're willing to accommodate this in as many ways as we can.”
Begg said he and Sechrist are seeking tenants for the half of the building adjacent to the church, including wellness-related businesses.
Borough council will review the planning commission's recommendation and could vote on whether to amend the borough's zoning ordinance to allow the distillery to operate at the Main Street location by classifying it as a commercial use rather than industrial or manufacturing.
Council approved a request by owner Chris Dongilla for Paisano's Restaurant to offer outdoor food and drink service “from the first nice day” to the Sunday after Thanksgiving.”
Council also approved Homer City Volunteer Fire Department requests relating to extended worker's compensation coverage during two fundraising events in May and closures of Church, Filbert and Rose streets for the department's FireFest carnival, May 21-25.
Borough manager Rob Nymick was authorized to have the Pennsylvania Conservancy apply for a state grant for projects at the borough's boat launch area.
Nymick informed council of a $500 donation from the Women's Club of Homer City for painting at the borough pool and said local businesses have donated more than $1,000 toward the cost of eight lighted holiday snowflake decorations.
Council approved spring cleanup hours at the fire hall. The borough will collect a $10 fee for each car and $25 for each truck bringing refuse for disposal between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. May 16 and from 8 a.m. to noon May 17.
A meeting between Center Township and Homer City Borough officials to discuss proposed consolidation is scheduled for 10 a.m. June 12 at the borough building.
Another request from Dongilla was tabled for review.
Council's planning and development committee will gather information about Dongilla's plan for making Straub Brewery's new mobile version of its “Eternal Tap” part of the town's summer Hoodlebug Festival.
Greg Reinbold is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2913 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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