A stable, safe residential community, one where residents look out for and help their neighbors and where children can play safely and dog owners walk their pets without fear and where homeowners take pride in repairing and improving their properties and lawns and tending to their vegetable gardens, is a prideful model for any borough or municipality or town or city.
That describes my neighborhood in North Union Township. But my neighborhood will be drastically altered, and not for the better, if the Fayette County Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) approves a rezoning petition for a “non-conforming use for a commercial use/restaurant on property zoned “R-1 moderate density residential” for a small parcel in the neighborhood. The rezoning request, the second in three years, was filed by John Piccolomini, the owner of Angelina’s Restaurant, formerly in Oliver. He now wants to relocate and operate his restaurant in our residential neighborhood.
No one in the community is anti-business. We favor expanding the township’s tax base. And many in the community patronized Mr. Piccolomini’s restaurant when it was in Oliver Square. What we oppose is the rezoning for commercial use a parcel that will negatively impact our community.
My residential community includes about 100 single-family homes and, with very few exceptions, are owner-occupied. A vast, overwhelming majority of the residents twice signed petitions opposing the rezoning of the property and allowing a restaurant or any commercial business to be located in the neighborhood.
The residents’ opposition centers on these irrefutable facts:
• The property in question is currently and has been for years zoned residential. The property owner, Donald Kilgore, had planned to construct high-end apartments on the parcel.
• Limited public access to the proposed site of the restaurant. Only two streets would provide ingress and egress for customers, vendors and employees to the site, Fairview Street and Walter Street. Both streets are narrow, only 10 to 12 feet at various points, even without residents parking their vehicles on both sides of the street because not all have driveways or garages. Mr. Piccolomini’s sworn testimony before the ZHB: “Fairview and Walter are the only two access streets to the property… Fairview Street is very narrow. Walter Street is very narrow.” And, he said, “I’m sure we will definitely add to traffic. I hope we add to traffic.”
• Public safety. More traffic on narrow streets risks the safety of the many elderly residents in the neighborhood, the children who play and those who walk and run the streets for exercise.
• Declining, neighborhood residential property values. That is an undeniable, deleterious effect of a commercial business opening in a residential community. Mr. Piccolomini’s sworn testimony to the ZHB: “If there is a detrimental cost to their houses, there’s no way, shape or form I would like to do this.” He added, “If this building does not work and these people are all bent out of shape, I don’t want to do it …”
So why does Mr. Piccolomini continue to seek rezoning, to put money into his pocket but wreck our community?
The community residents are not “bent not of shape.” Our opposition to the rezoning request is unchanged since Mr. Piccolomini first requested the zoning change in 2017. Our evidence of opposition is substantial, irrefutable and transparent. The reasons for our opposition are reasoned, logical and fact-based.
Our residential community is not among the wealthiest in the United States. Our residential community is not the home of any of the richest people in Pennsylvania. Our residential community does not have sprawling properties and large homes.
If our residential community could boast any of those superlatives, I doubt Mr. Piccolomini would attempt to put a commercial enterprise within its borders. And I doubt the ZHB would approve a rezoning request to do so.
Ours is a more Fred Rogers’ neighborhood. Many homes were decorated with American flags for the recent Memorial Day holiday. If the past years are an indication, the same will be true for the upcoming Fourth of July celebration.
Yard signs celebrating students graduating this year from elementary, high school and college are planted in the front lawns of the homes they live. The COVID-19 crisis denied them of the formal and typical recognition of their accomplishment.
What’s more, the North Union Township supervisors oppose the rezoning request, citing the reasons of residents’ opposition. That fact is included in official record of proceedings to date. The ZHB in the past has given considerable deference to the opinion of the supervisors when the ZHB makes a decision.
Mr. Piccolomini should withdraw his request for a zoning change. If he doesn’t, the ZHB should, without delay, do the right thing and deny the rezoning request.
No matter the outcome, it’s time for North Union Township to follow many other townships, including South Union Township, to create its own autonomous zoning board so that issues such as this are resolved on a more granular, not county-wide level, and decisions are made by elected or appointed individuals who reside in North Union Township.
North Union Township