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North Hills

Zoning reclassification could block Sheetz's latest attempt to relocate the business across the street in McCandless

Tony LaRussa
| Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018, 4:18 p.m.
A McCandless councilman is trying to rezone a piece of property across the street from the Sheetz along Perry Highway in McCandless from commercial to residential to prevent the business from relocating closer to homes.
A McCandless councilman is trying to rezone a piece of property across the street from the Sheetz along Perry Highway in McCandless from commercial to residential to prevent the business from relocating closer to homes.

A McCandless councilman has proposed changing the zoning classification for a property located just off Perry Highway that, if approved, would block an attempt by Sheetz to build a new gasoline station and convenience store across the street from its current location.

Residents who have been fighting Sheetz’s effort to relocate across Perry Highway support the zoning change, but the owner of the property told council that he didn’t ask for the change and does not want it to be approved.

Councilman Greg Walkauskus, who chairs the town’s zoning committee, has recommended that the zoning for 131 Montclair Avenue be changed from its current classification as a C3 or Highway Commercial zoning to an R2 zoning, which only permits single- and two-family residential units.

The property “is classified as residential for tax purposes and is indistinguishable from other properties which are zoned R2,” Walkauskus said during council’s Aug 13 committee meeting. “My feeling is it should be rezoned.”

Walkauskus argued that the property has had a house on it since 1910 that has always been used as a residence.

But Councilwoman Joan Powers balked at Walkauskus’ move to seek a zoning change.

“Why are we infringing on the owner of the property?” she asked. “If they requested it (the zoning change) then I could understand us looking into it.”

Walkauskus said unless the zoning is changed, it could be used in the future for commercial development, which he believes is out of character for the street.

Powers responded: “Maybe that (commercial use) is the reason they bought it.”

Montclair is at the bottom of a residential street that dead ends at the top and intersects with Perry Highway where the Superior Pools store is located.

The family that owns the pool company also owns the adjacent 160 foot by 230 foot property Walkauskus wants to rezone.

Councilman Steve Mertz questioned the consequences of making a change that could reduce the property’s value.

“What are the legal ramifications of taking commercial property and stripping its value down to a residential lot?” he said.

Mertz also chided Walkauskus for failing to notify the owner of the property that he was planning to bring the matter before council for discussion.

Walkauskus said he attempted to find contact information for the owners but it was not readily available.

One of the property’s owner’s, Terry Hoge, said the commercial zoning has been in place since 1959 and that his father purchased the property in the early 1980s with the intent of eventually using it to expand the swimming pool business.

“Our plan was to tear down the house and build a garage and warehouse for the pool business,” he said. “but if it’s rezoned, it becomes useless to us. The structure (on the property) is now beyond repair and needs to be demolished.”

Hoge said plans to use the property to for the pool business changed when Sheetz asked to buy it.

“We’re not greedy land owners. We didn’t seek out the Sheetz deal, they came to us,” Hoge said. “The offer they made was enough to buy another property and continue our business. We’re trying to carry on our father’s legacy. Now you’re trying to deny our opportunity by rezoning the property.”

Hoge suggested that a change in zoning could reduce the value of his property by as much as 75 percent.

Hoge’s brother, Ken Hoge, said the property is part of his retirement plan.

“I depend on this property as part of my income to retire comfortably,” he said. “This (zoning change) would really damage our income in the future.”

Sheetz’s effort to buy commercial property near its current location at the busy triangular junction of Old Perry Highway and Perry Highway comes on the heels of council’s denial of the company’s request to make a change in the zoning law needed for the store to move across the street so the business can expand.

Residents along Montclair and other nearby streets convinced council to deny the change, arguing that allowing a larger building closer to their homes would increase their exposure to gasoline and diesel fumes; add more noise, light and traffic congestion; make it more dangerous for kids waiting for school buses; lower nearby property values; and generally disturb the tranquility of their neighborhood.

Several residents who lobbied to block the original zoning change Sheetz requested supported Walkauskus’ attempt to make the Hoge’s property strictly residential.

Michael Gronsky of Montclair Avenue said a mistake was made when the property was originally classified as commercial.

“All you are doing here is fixing a mistake,” he said.

But Pat Weber of Meinert Road said if council moves forward with rezoning the property it could negatively impact future development in the town.

“It’s disturbing to me as a resident that council could take targeted action against an individual property owner that sends a message to the wider community that McCandless is not open for business,” he said.

Tony LaRussa is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tony at 724-772-6368 or tlarussa@tribweb.com or via Twitter @TonyLaRussaTrib.

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