Judge will decide ownership of old Jeannette Glass site

| Monday, March 24, 2014, 11:50 p.m.

A 13-acre industrial site in Jeannette that has been idle for three decades could be put into use if it's returned to its New York-based former owners, a lawyer said Monday.

But county and city officials countered that history suggests the one-time owners of the Jeannette Glass Co. property will never make good on a decades-old promise to restore the sprawling site to an industrial venture generating jobs and tax revenue.

The land was the subject of a nonjury trial on Monday before Westmoreland County Judge Anthony Marsili, who will decide if the sale of the property for back taxes nearly two years ago will stand. Marsili said he won't rule on the issue until he receives written legal arguments in early May.

In September 2012, the Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corp. purchased the site for $305,000, as the property was sold by the county because of delinquent taxes.

According to tax records, Zion Bullitt Avenue Ltd. owed more than $11,000 to the county, more than $17,000 to the City of Jeannette and more than $44,800 to the school district for three years running.

“We're going to develop it,” said Aaron Kress, a lawyer for Zion Bullitt, the New York-based partnership that owned the property. “ ... If they (Zion) keep the property, all the back taxes are going to be paid quite quickly.”

The company was founded by New York developer Abe Zion, who purchased the site in 1983 out of bankruptcy with promises to build a glass plant featuring cutting-edge technology. The state gave Zion $1.2 million in grants and low-interest loans, but the plant never reopened.

Years of unsuccessful efforts to get Zion to sell or rehabilitate the site followed, but it was not until county officials stepped in to purchase the property in the tax sale that movement finally occurred.

Zion is now under a court order to comply with a state Department of Environmental Protection edict to clean up the property.

“We want to get the site cleaned up and if successful here (in purchasing the property), get the site back into productive use,” said Jason Rigone, executive director of the county's industrial development authority.

Jeannette solicitor Scott Avolio said Zion's promise to rehabilitate and sell the property has been heard before.

“That representation has been made decade after decade after decade by the Zions. There has been 25 years of no movement,” Avolio said.

Marisili will ultimately decide who owns the property.

In court on Monday, lawyers for Zion said the company never received official and certified documentation from the county that the property was subject to a tax sale.

Mark Zion, the company's managing partner and son of Abe Zion, testified that he and his 89-year-old father, who was ill, were out of the country when a certified letter of the proposed sale arrived at the family's home in the Bronx.

Mark Zion said the pair traveled to the U.S. Virgin Islands to celebrate a birthday in early May 2012.

Records introduced into evidence on Monday indicated a certified letter about the sale, signed for by someone at the Zion home, was delivered on May 14, 2012.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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