Judge OKs Jeannette Glass sale

| Thursday, July 31, 2014, 11:18 p.m.

Westmoreland County's purchase of the former Jeannette Glass plant has been upheld by a county judge but officials said the ownership dispute is far from over.

Judge Anthony Marsili Jr. Thursday ruled the Tax Claim Bureau properly advertised the sale, posted a sale notice at the site and notified the owner, Zion Bullitt Avenue LP, that the firm owed the county, city and Jeannette School District more than $171,000 in taxes for 2010 and 2011. Zion Bullitt is owned by Abe Zion and his family, who live in New York City.

“... What more could the Tax Claim Bureau have done to provide notice of delinquent real estate taxes and the Upset Sale to a non-owner occupant that is a business entity located out of state?” Marsili wrote.

The Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corp. purchased the property for more than $305,000 at a sale held in 2012 because of the unpaid taxes. The county put the 13-acre site up for sale and notified the company in May 2012.

The county purchased the property with the intent of redeveloping it. Zion appealed and Marsili conducted a non-jury trial earlier this year.

County and city officials expect the Zions to appeal Marsili's decision to Commonwealth Court.

“They've made that known from day one,” said city attorney Scott Avolio. “The judge showed a lot of courage but it's long from over. But it's a significant step for the city of Jeannette.”

Zion's attorney, Aaron Kress of New Kensington, declined to comment.

City, county and state officials have been sparring with Zion's company for 30 years in an effort to force him to remove wastes, toxins and chemicals remaining on the property after decades of glass making.

The state Department of Environmental Protection cited Zion for a series of water and air violations. The two sides reached an agreement last January that established a timetable for Zion to clean up the site.

Marsili said Mark Zion's testimony about his father's whereabouts when the county's registered letter arrived in New York was “vague and confusing,” while testimony from the county was “detailed and credible.”

Zion testified that his 89-year-old father, who has suffered mental and physical deterioration due to his age, uses a wheelchair and requires round-the-clock care.

When the letter arrived, Mark Zion said, he and his father were in the Virgin Islands.

Marsili noted that someone signed the receipt for the letter with the last name “Zion” when it arrived at Zion's residence in the Bronx.

He questioned how Zion, despite his physical condition, was able to travel “extensively” in the United States and the Virgin Islands.

Mark Zion never testified that he did not know about the tax sale, only that his father could not have signed for the letter, the judge noted.

“We're excited the judge has ruled in our favor,” said Jason Rigone, executive director of the Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corp. “This is something that we've been waiting for since making the initial bid on the property in 2012.”

Rigone said redeveloping the property could be a major economic boost to Jeannette because the site is located “dead center of the city.”

“The news is good,” said Mayor Richard Jacobelli. “It's about time.”

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or rgazarik@tribweb.com.

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