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Ligonier Township zoning board rules in nursing home's favor

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By Nicole Chynoweth
Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Ligonier Township's zoning hearing board ruled in Bethlen Communities' favor Tuesday night after the nursing home asked for an interpretation of a previous ruling to allow for expanded use of its kitchen facilities at its Heritage Center, such as meal service for residents and guests.

“The kitchen use of this particular area would not be out of the ordinary or would not be prohibited as determined by the 2006 decision,” solicitor Mark Sorice said.

Attorney Peggy Hooker represented Bethlen Communities at the hearing as its general counselor and provided background about the 2006 ruling. Bethlen Communities had applied for a variance special exception and interpretation of an ordinance to allow for expansion of uses and non-conforming prior uses of its facilities so it could host meetings, social functions, recreational activities for its residents and social gatherings. After that, township supervisors passed a resolution stating that Bethlen Communities could have such events, but the use of the kitchen would be limited to food reheating and distribution, food prepared off-site, and a monthly chicken and biscuit dinner, which is no longer held. The supervisors said Bethlen Communities would have to obtain further approval of expansion for the kitchen facilities.

Hooker called the Rev. Imre Bertalan of Bethlen Communities as a witness, who said residents had indicated they would like to see meals on weekends or when the Valley Senior Center is not serving meals. He said Bethlen Communities has started looking into getting a food provider to cook meals for residents, and residents would be put on a meal plan, with the cost going toward paying the food provider. He said it would be a minimal cost to Bethlen Communities, aside from utilities and the addition of a supervisor to oversee operations in the kitchen facility.

During public comment, resident Robert Fiok, who resides on Walnut Street, objected to the expanded use of the kitchen facilities, stating that it would create more noise in the area, which is an R-2 district. He explained that garbage trucks and bus trip activity in the parking lot already creates a disturbance and feels additional food service at the Heritage Center would only add to the problem.

Resident Kathy Johnston, who resides on 3rd Street, also objected, stating that since Bethlen Communities cut down trees on its property in the last year, she has experienced flooding in her basement and excess water in her yard during rainfall, and she feels such problems should be addressed before allowing expanded use of the kitchen facilities. She said she has made phone calls to amend the situation but is not satisfied with Bethlen Communities' actions.

Bertalan responded to her saying, that their board of directors is looking into a way to fix the drainage issues in the area.

Sorice explained to Johnston that her issue with Bethlen Communities was not relevant to the matter at hand.

After stating that the expanded use of the kitchen facilities would not be inconsistent with the board's 2006 ruling, Sorice said Bethlen Communities will need to submit a site plan to the township planning commission and also seek a conditional use permit from the supervisors.

The next zoning board meeting will be held Sept. 24.

Nicole Chynoweth is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2862 or

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