Veterans group, Pittston Twp. spar over proposal for Bypass

Last updated: July 14. 2013 11:18PM - 3412 Views
By JOE HEALEY jhealey@psdispatch.com

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PITTSTON TWP. — Has the Valley with a Heart turned a cold shoulder to veterans?

That’s what a national veterans group is saying after the Pittston Township Board of Supervisors recently declined to change the zoning on the former animal hospital on the Pittston Bypass to allow a veterans’ facility.

The Veterans Fund of the United States, which has its national office a stone’s throw down the Bypass, planned to renovate the former Animal Emergency & Referral Hospital to house 30 veterans, including 10 senior veterans and 20 veterans in need. Those veterans would operate a café and train at a Veterans Culinary Institute that would be part of the new facility.

Township Supervisor Joseph “Murph” Adams said he supports veterans, but is worried about setting a precedent.

“If we rezone it in favor of them, then we open it up for everyone asking for rezoning,” he said. “They can put strip clubs in and we would have no say in it.”

Township Administrator John Bonita said the township doesn’t have a problem with the cafe or the culinary school. It’s the housing of the veterans that becomes a problem.

Business zone

Bonita said that land, in addition to much of the land along the Bypass and state Route 315, is zoned B2, which does not allow long-term housing.

“The cafe qualified, the culinary school qualified, but the housing does not qualify,” Bonita said. “Our building code doesn’t allow that. They want us to grant an exemption and we’re not prepared to do that.”

He said township officials did some research and, if the change was made to that property, it could apply to similar tracts of B2 land in the township.

Then things such as methadone clinics would have a better chance at opening, he said.

Peter J. Forbes, president of the Veterans Fund of the United States, said the veterans group is being allowed to open housing units only in industrial areas.

“Yes, that is the only place we can house veterans – in an industrial area,” Forbes wrote. “Wow, what a cold heart the Valley has. I wonder if they would like to have their parents live in an industrial park?”

Bonita said the industrial areas of the township are very adequate with beautiful views, and he suggested the group look into the CenterPoint West Commerce & Trade Park in the township.

Forbes said the animal hospital previously had sleeping accommodations, but his group was given the runaround and finally told it could not proceed. Bonita said the animal hospital was a 24-hour operation and had one veterinarian, at most, sleep there while on duty.

Operations, security issues

Additionally, Bonita said, there were issues of operations and security that were not addressed.

“What types of veterans will live there?” he asked. “Will additional police patrols be needed? Will there be additional ambulance and fire calls? What kind of services would be provided there? Are they taking the veterans’ military compensation?”

The area is 4.6 acres surrounded by a creek on two sides, a mining repair company, a dental office and the Pittston Bypass. It is also less than a quarter mile from the world headquarters of the Veterans of Vietnam War Inc., the Veterans Coalition and the Veterans Fund of the United States. That facility is known for the massive American flag flying over it.

Forbes said the township does not support veterans.

“We can only hope these supervisors will see the error of their ways and be part of the solution to assisting veterans and not disgracing them,” Forbes wrote.

Bonita disagreed.

“We’re being made out to be the bad guys,” he said. “But we’re a very progressive town, and we’re very much in favor of veterans. Just not this facility at this time.”

The Animal Emergency & Referral Hospital closed in January 2010 and the company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, saying it owed more than $2.8 million to creditors. It had been owned by Christopher Rappolt since he purchased the property in 2006 from James and Mary Pat O’Malley.

The O’Malleys developed the property in 1994 and built the Staircase Lounge, a nightclub that hosted national acts such as Ted Nugent and the Black Eyed Peas. It closed in 2005.

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