The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

April 24, 2013

Zoning change paves way for sale of fire hall

David Hurst
dhurst@tribdem.com

DAVIDSVILLE — Conemaugh Township Fire Department plans to close its Ideal fire station this year and sell it to a Hollsopple man who plans to grow his screen printing business there.

It’s a move that cleared its biggest hurdle Wednesday, with Conemaugh Township’s Zoning Hearing Board granting the fire department special approval to allow the print shop, and perhaps two offices – both nonconforming uses – to move into the residential neighborhood.

The Glessner Road building was originally a barn, but from 1939 to 2011 it served as home to the former Ideal Volunteer Company.

Conemaugh Township fire Chief Brian Shoff said fewer and fewer firefighters have been stationed there since Ideal merged with his department more than two years ago. Meanwhile, utility costs have steadily risen.

“It cost us $7,000 there for heating oil over the winter,” said Shoff, noting only two fire trucks and a handful of firefighters occupy it – and that the department’s main station is less than 2 miles away.

“That station is just becoming a burden.”

But Dan Blackner sees opportunity.

He hopes to relocate his Benson area shirt manufacturing business onto the station’s second floor.

Blackner said he’s been looking for a larger, permanent home to do the work and said he hopes his workforce will grow from three to six in the coming years.

He told the zoning board he might also rent out two spots for offices, such as insurance sales, and would continue to allow the fire department to store extra vehicles there until older ones in the fleet can be sold.

Blackner added that his shop would have a lesser impact on the neighborhood than the station does – a factor in permitting the use change. He said it would primarily be used during the Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. business day. Few customers visit the shop and instead do business by telephone.

And Shoff noted a fire siren on the building will be shut.

Only signage would change on the exterior, Blackner added.

The board approved the change 2-0. Zoning Board Chairman Jeff Thomas recused himself from the matter at the beginning of the meeting, saying his longtime fire department ties made it difficult to be impartial on the requests.

Shoff said an approximately $40,000 sales agreement is in place to turn the building and surrounding property over to Blackner in the coming months.

A separate variance request by the fire department was voted down Wednesday that would have given Blackner the opportunity to put storage units on a gravel lot down the hill from the station.

Zoning members David Miltenberger and Dave Maldet denied that request 2-0 after numerous residents voiced aesthetic and safety concerns about adding storage units so close to their homes.

Some residents worried the proposed units would attract “criminals” and the “wrong crowd” to the quiet neighborhood.  

“There’s a lot of children in this neighborhood. We don’t want strangers coming in and out,” said Jason Kinsey, a neighbor.

He was one of several residents who wished Blackner well on the T-shirt business, saying he supported that idea.

Blackner said his plans to buy the fire station wouldn’t be impacted by the decision on the other lot.

He said he’ll drop the idea and might explore other options for the lot, adding he didn’t want to upset neighbors.

The nonconforming use change now will need final approval by the township supervisors.

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