The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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December 27, 2013

Drive-in sign spat heats up

PORTAGE — The Portage Bar-Ann Drive-In is rallying support in its coming legal battle against Portage Township.

The issue stems from the placement of the nearly 60-year-old drive-in theater’s sign in the center of the 40-foot-wide Cyran Alley, which is a township-owned right of way.

Supervisors claim it’s a driving hazard and have received reports of fender benders around the area. On the advice of township Solicitor Calvin Webb, who said the township could be held liable for damages or injuries sustained in a sign-related crash, the supervisors filed an injunction against the drive-in to have the sign removed. A preliminary hearing is set for Jan. 24.

But drive-in operators claim that losing the sign would mean losing business. Manager Dustin Grush said there would be no way to find the Springhill Road drive-in in the dark. A petition is being circulated, with “several pages” of signatures from residents and local businesses, all demanding that the supervisors back off.

Supervisors said they have been receiving a multitude of emails, some in support of the township’s stance, some threatening to oust the supervisors in the next election cycle.

“The support from the local businesses has been outstanding,” Grush said. He said he plans to take the petition to the hearing, as well as the Jan. 6 township supervisors reorganizational meeting, where drive-in supporters are being urged to attend and voice their concerns.

“We hope that the supervisors and the judge can see what kind of impact their decisions will have on the surrounding community,” he said.

But supervisors have claimed that there is no other option – their duty is to protect citizens. Supervisor Rick Olshavsky said the township’s liability insurance policy is not robust enough to cover crash-related injuries.

“Can I sleep at home if somebody hits this sign?” he said. Since the sign has become a public matter, now that residents have complained in public meetings, the township can’t avoid the issue. “If we don’t take care of this, what’s that called? Negligence.”

Supervisors also have made it clear that this issue is not an attack on the drive-in, which has been a beloved local institution for decades – and a boon for local commerce, according to Supervisor Ben Selapack.

“Try to go up to Sheetz on a night the drive-in’s open. It’s packed. The drive-in helps everything,” he said. “Local businesses benefit by it.”

Justin Dennis covers Portage Township for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/JustinDennis.

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