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Jeannette Glass site officially in hands of redevelopment group

Rich Cholodofsky
| Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016, 10:42 p.m.
Environmental issues remain to be addressed at the former Jeannette Glass site.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Environmental issues remain to be addressed at the former Jeannette Glass site.

A New York company's three-decade stewardship of the former Jeannette Glass plant officially ended with the scrawl of a judge's pen and the formal filing of a deed that transferred ownership of the blighted 13-acre site to a county agency.

Although the Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corp. purchased the property in a 2012 tax sale, the transfer wasn't finalized until a court session concluded Tuesday to determine the current value of the site, which sat dormant during 33 years of failed promises, abandoned plans and lengthy litigation.

“This long city tragedy of the Zion ownership of this site is finally over. Now, we can look eagerly to see what the county is able to develop,” said Jeannette solicitor Scott Avolio.

The plant, once a centerpiece in the city's industrial landscape, was in bankruptcy in 1983 when it was purchased for $4 million by businessman Abe Zion, who promised to reopen it. Zion, who died in April, hired Russian scientists to manufacture a new form of unbreakable glass to be used as roofing tiles and secured grants to help pay for the endeavor.

Despite the promises and government funding, the plant never reopened. The scientists Zion hired sued him for breach of contract and defamation. In the mid-1990s, Zion was accused of influence peddling among city officials, a contention that led to the mayor's resignation and the firing of its solicitor.

Still, Zion pushed to reopen the glass plant and continued to pay property taxes through 2010 even as structures on the property deteriorated.

The fight appeared to end in 2012, when the industrial development group paid $305,000 for the property in a tax sale. Zion's company challenged the validity of the sale until this year, when the state Supreme Court upheld the action.

The final hurdle was to settle a property assessment appeal that Zion's company filed over the valuation of the site, which calculated the land to be worth more than $2.5 million for taxing purposes.

Attorneys for the county, city and the Zion Bullitt Avenue Limited Partnership met Tuesday before the start of a hearing on the assessment appeal and struck a deal that substantially reduced the value of the former glass plant, which had been set decades ago.

Judge Anthony Marsili signed a court order that set the value at $795,419 for the 2013 tax year. The value will increase each year through 2017, when the property will have a market value of $1.15 million.

“This will allow the record to be closed and give the IDC the ability to develop the property,” said John Ward, a lawyer for the county agency.

Tim Andrews, solicitor for the county tax claim bureau, said the court agreement allows money withheld from proceeds of the sale to be disbursed to the city, county and Jeannette City School District.

The Zion company has until Thursday to remove any personal items from the property, county officials said.

Officials anticipate that final cleanup of industrial waste can begin so the property can be rehabilitated and sold.

“We will be working in close cooperation with the (Department of Environmental Protection) to devise a plan that remedies all environmental issues,” said Jason Rigone, executive director of the industrial development group. “It is our plan to begin this work in September.”

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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