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Thursday, June 5, 2014

Zoning Board grants continuance for Friendship AutoZone development

Posted By on Thu, Jun 5, 2014 at 11:47 AM

In a meeting that lasted just a few minutes, the Zoning Board of Adjustment granted neighborhood groups' request to postpone a hearing until July on a development plan that calls for building an AutoZone at Penn and Negley aves.

The neighborhood groups argued there had been "no opportunity" for community members to be informed about the development of the landmark Babyland site, or to ask questions of the developers directly. The groups said they also hadn't had the chance to retain legal counsel. Lawyers for the developers had no objection to the request to postpone the hearing.

"There's always a possibility for resolution," said the Zoning Board's Alice Mitinger as a reason for granting the request. But she cautioned: "There may be concerns that are never addressed."

Roughly 20 people attended the hearing; while there was no neighborhood testimony today, most attendees seemed to oppose to the proposal.

Neighborhood groups have asserted the high-profile Friendship property serves as a gateway to a burgeoning Penn Ave. arts and business corridor and shouldn't be marred by a 6,787-square-foot AutoZone store with 16 parking spaces. The Zoning Board was required to hold a hearing because the city's Planning Department said the proposed site plan would require five exceptions to the zoning code.

Jon Kamin, a lawyer representing the developers, disputed the Planning Department's analysis.

"We don't think we need any variances," he said. Perhaps anticipating the argument that he'll make at the July hearing, Kamin noted that the project could use structural elements of the existing Babyland site, which is not in compliance with the current zoning code. If the developer did so, the project may not be required to seek a variance, he said, because the existing structure was grandfathered into current zoning rules.

Kamin also contended that, while the zoning code requires building entrances from both Negley and Penn avenues, a Penn Avenue entrance would not be handicapped-accessible because of the property's slope.

Community groups representing Friendship, East Liberty Bloomfield and Garfield, outlined their concerns in a May 12 letter, but said they would be "glad to discuss an approach that meets your financial goals ... [O]n the other hand, if you are not interested, we are prepared to do what it takes to stop development."

Asked about the letter, Kamin said it was "unworthy of response."

"We're happy to work cooperatively," he said, "but that requires a partner to work with."

For her part, Stefani Danes, a Friendship Community Group board member, said the point of the letter was to spark "a serious conversation about options in the site ... if I were the developer, I'd want to talk to the community before coming back here."

The Zoning Board hearing was rescheduled for July 17 at 10:10 a.m., 200 Ross St., Downtown.

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