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California University challenges borough's liquor ordinance

Joe Napsha
| Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

California University of Pennsylvania wants Washington County Common Pleas Court to reverse or revise an ordinance that sets fees of up to $3,750 for any Cal U convocation center event where liquor is served, claiming the borough overstepped its authority when it imposed rules on the use of liquor.

Cal U claimed in the lawsuit filed on Jan. 10 that the borough exceeded its zoning authority in November 2012 when it set nine requirements that the university must comply with before the borough would approve the conditional use of selling or providing alcohol in an area zoned for institutional use. The convocation center lies in an area zoned for institutional use, which does not provide for a specific use for having a liquor license or providing alcohol.

The university asked the court to reverse the borough's zoning hearing board's Dec. 9, 2013, decision upholding the 2012 ordinance. That ruling, issued after hearings began in December 2012 and continued through June and September, erred in its interpretations and conclusions of the 2012 ordinance and a previous ordinance the university said would permit alcohol use at the center, the suit states.

California Borough Manager Timothy Buchanan, who was hired last week, declined to comment on the lawsuit. The borough's attorney, Thomas Agrafiotis of Charleroi, also declined to comment on the suit.

Manning O'Connor II, a Pittsburgh attorney representing Cal U, could not be reached for comment.

Cal U said in the lawsuit that it argued before the zoning hearing board that the Pennsylvania Liquor Code preempts the borough's 2012 zoning ordinance. The regulation not only interferes with a Liquor Control Board's use of a liquor license, but it was unnecessary because alcohol use was permitted in that institutional zone under the borough's previous ordinance, the lawsuit states.

The university said the ordinance imposed burdens on Cal U that far exceeded the scope of the university's application in April 2012 for approval of a conditional use so that it could serve alcohol at the facility.

The suit states that the fees imposed by the ordinance are not related to the borough's actual expenses for police services, because it cost the borough $291 for police services — primarily traffic control — at a Kenny Rogers concert in April 2012 and $903 at a Bob Dylan concert in April 2013. Under the borough's ordinance, it would have cost the university $3,000 for both concerts because alcohol might have been served as those events, and another $750 for a May 2013 boxing match at the center, the suit stated.

By contrast, the university's graduation ceremonies in the center in May 2013 cost the borough about $1,100 for police services, yet the borough's ordinance does not seek reimbursement for that event because no alcohol was served.

Cal U said it is “undisputed” that the university is willing to reimburse the borough for “precise fees and costs” that it incurs for its police services.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

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