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Second appeal seeks to stop construction of Fayette jail

| Monday, July 14, 2014, 10:57 p.m.

A second appeal seeking to stop construction of Fayette County's $32 million jail was filed on Monday.

Through attorneys Leslie J. Mlakar and Michael T. Korns of Greensburg, Terry and Diane Kriss, owners of the historic Meason House in Dunbar Township, filed the land-use appeal seeking to reverse zoning hearing board decisions that cleared the way for the proposed Justice and Rehabilitation Center.

The county board in May granted variances allowing the county to build the new jail on a lot smaller than the required 150 acres, to plant 143 fewer trees than required and to permit a small section of barbed wire fencing to be visible to the public.

The board granted a special exception allowing the jail to be built on land zoned for industrial use on 18.87 acres of a 61-acre site off Route 119 and Mt. Braddock Road in Dunbar and North Union townships, near Laurel Mall and the Meason House.

According to the National Register of Historic Places, the home was built in 1802 by Isaac Meason, an early entrepreneur and iron master who established the Union Furnace and Forge in 1791, and architect-builder Adam Wilson.

“The substantial 2 12-story ashlar sandstone house is a ... vigorous example of an English Palladian villa-type house and is an appropriate statement of the means and presence that Meason had achieved by the early 19th century,” according to the register. “The architectural significance of the Meason House is reinforced by its remarkable integrity. It has stood ... with no changes or alterations that have compromised its original design or appearance.”

The county has a sales agreement with Fay-Penn Economic Development Council to buy the land for $1.2 million.

The appeal is the second of its kind. Connellsville attorney Rich Bower filed a similar appeal in June on behalf of North Union residents Evelyn Hovanec and John Cofchin, and husband and wife Ralph and Jerrie Mazza of Franklin Township.

Both seek to reverse the board's decisions. They cite similar reasons, including the contention that county Commissioner Al Ambrosini did not have standing to seek the variances and special exceptions, and that the application incorrectly listed William B. Blaney as the property's owner. The county, not Ambrosini, should have filed the application, the attorneys contend.

The appeals argue the property is located within an airport hazard overlay, a contention Ambrosini disputes.

Mlakar argued in the Krisses' appeal that the board granted the requests for a total of 18.87 acres, when the legal ad indicated it was to be for 12.41 acres.

The board's decision should be reversed for other reasons, he argued, including that the county zoning ordinance requires 150 acres for a correctional facility, that it be located adjacent to an arterial road and that it not be within 1,000 feet of a school or park.

The property abuts the Sheepskin Trail and is within 300 feet of an area where another nearby property owner, the Cellurales, were granted a permit for a commercial school, Mlakar said in the appeal.

Mlakar argued that variances are to be granted only when specific conditions exist at a site, including the existence of unique physical conditions that create a hardship. The county ordinance states that a hardship is not to be self-inflicted, and that any variance sought is to be the minimum required to provide relief.

None of those conditions was met, according to the appeal. Mlakar noted that an 80 percent reduction from the minimum 150 acres required for a correctional facility to 18.87 acres is “not the minimum variance that will afford relief.” Any hardship, he argued, is self-inflicted.

“The applicant desires to sell and purchase the subject property with full knowledge that the property does not meet the minimum area requirements as established by the zoning ordinance,” Mlakar wrote.

Bower appealed on June 24, but a hearing has not been held. All of Fayette's judges recused themselves from hearing it, and an out-of-county judge has not yet been assigned.

Fayette County on Friday filed a notice of intervention in the first appeal, noting it has a “vested interest” in the property.

Liz Zemba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or

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