by Jonathan Weaver
A special zoning exception was made last week in Ford City Borough for an auto repair garage.
Held at the Ford City Borough Building, Solicitor James Favero and Zoning Board Members Greg Dinko, James Mulligan and John Thompson – along with a court stenographer – heard the request of Delores Gilbert to allow continued use of her garage along the 1400 block of 4th Avenue to local residents Ryan Pelligreno and Bill Bracken.
Favero advised the audience of the need for such hearing, and said that such garage falls in the commercial district of Ford City and would require a special exception to operate.
“On March 8, 2013, the codes enforcement officer (Jeff Richardson of Richardson Inspection) of Ford City Borough issues a cease and desist order to Ms. Gilbert, indicating the property is in violation of the current zoning ordinance because of an auto repair shop on the property,” Favero began.
Richardson testified that he has met with Gilbert – the property owner – and talked with Pelligreno and Bracken about the nature of the garage they lease.
“Several months back, Ms. Gilbert requested Richardson Inspection Services conduct a rental inspection of the attached garage at the rear of her property. At that time, Ms. Gilbert conveyed that the intended use would be for residential storage, and we approved the certificate of occupancy contingent on it being used for residential storage,” Richardson testified.
It was then that the Borough started received noise complaints and said ‘extensive’ repairs had been ongoing.
Richardson found more than one vehicle at the property, and has concerns over the electrical system concern and with fluid disposal of that garage.
Pelligreno and Bracken both testified that they signed a one-year lease in November 2012 to operate the space as a place to restore their own vehicles, as well as those belonging to family and friends only
Pelligreno testified that the garage is not equipped to take outside business and is not soliciting business from the outside community.
“I don’t except money from (any)body – I do (the restoration) for nothing,” Pelligreno said.
Bracken himself owns 17 vehicles and is currently repairing a 1980 Camero. He affirms Pelligreno’s statement.
“I didn’t want (any) trouble. I don’t want to break any roles – all I want to do is play with cars,” Bracken said.
“We’re not at the garage to cause problems to anybody,” Bracken later added.
Some of those problems included noise, reported parking in Birch Alley and speeding.
Neighbor Deborah Turko brought a petition from 18 neighbors – with 12 of those neighbors listed as 4th Avenue residents. Turko was also concerned with no ventilation and no bathroom facilities in the garage, and noise as early as 3AM.
She said danger to local residents is also a concern, and thought no such repairs should take place at the garage.
“Speeding like you just shot out of a cannon,” Turko said. “This is an alley – we have a lot of foot traffic. Someone is going to get hurt.”
“The neighbors feel we have ordinances and permits, and they need to be enforced,” Turko said.
The garage was previously utilized by Gilbert’s husband for auto repair for approximately 45 years and for other storage and auto work.
“I realize people want a quiet neighborhood, but the world changes every day and everyone needs to adapt,” Gilbert wrote in a statement to the Board.
Though refuted by a different resident, Virginia Harmon and Carolyn Nicotra testified that the noise disturbs local residents.
“I don’t want to hurt (Gilbert) or her tenants – I’ve told her to her face that she has a heart of gold,” Harmon said. (But) my problem is the noise. It drives me crazy.”
Robert Pelligreno – Ryan’s father – also denied the fact his son utilizes the space after dark.
Ford City Councilman Gene Banks defended Bracken due to his neighborly actions.
“We’re looking at this guy as an ogre, and he’s really not. He’s done a lot of things for people,” Banks said.
Even with the complaints, local police officers were reportedly only called for illegally-parked vehicles in the alley and not for any noise complaints.
As pointed out by Favero, there is no designated time in the zoning ordinance to curb noise.
After an executive session to confer with Favero, members unanimously approved the special exception provided the garage is in-use only between 8AM and 8PM, does not permit parking on Birch Avenue and complies with all affiliated ordinances and codes.
Board Member James Milligan made the motion, and added that if the garage becomes a taxable business, Pelligreno and Bracken must reappear before the zoning hearing board.
Also, more actions must be taken between with Richardson to ensure proper occupancy.
Zoning Board President Greg Dinko as board president added his comments before the motion was made.
“We have an antiquated zoning law. I’ve been involved with this zoning hearing board for almost 30 years, and I have been trying, and trying, and trying to get this zoning law up to where it needs to be in the 21st-22nd century,” Dinko said.
The zoning board had up to 45 days to make their decision.
The Ford City Planning Commission previously met on the issue, but had a lack of quorum and all recommendations could not be considered.