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October 1, 2013

Zoning variance granted for Coopersdale property owned by city councilman

— A Coopersdale property owned by a Johnstown city councilman has received a special exception for the installation of a storage shed in a residential district.

William Gentile Jr. asked the city’s zoning board for the variance at the property in the 100 block of Cooper Avenue.

The panel voted 2-0 in favor of granting the request with Chairman Tony Caputo and Tony Piro casting yeas. Another member, the Rev. Calvin McCray, was absent from the meeting on Monday morning.

A few residents showed up to oppose the exception, citing concerns about safety from activities taking place at the location. They had collected about 60 signatures on a petition.

Caputo explained the board was only addressing the issue of the 1,280-square-foot structure, not other matters.

“I think basically what we’re voting on is a pole barn,” said the chairman. “We’re not putting anything commercial or anything like that. That’s another issue.”

Gentile succinctly said, “It’s going to be a storage building.”

John Kuzmiak, Gentile’s lawyer, stated he does not believe his client intends to use the property for commercial activity. The land is going to be for storage of equipment Gentile needs for his hauling and plowing business, according to the attorney. Kuzmiak feels building the shed will help put a property back into taxation in a neighborhood where little residential development has occurred in recent years. He explained there are already other nonresidential properties on the street, including a tire shop and motorcycle organization’s clubhouse.

“It would be nice if you get someone that’s going to build single-family residences in Coopersdale, but I don’t believe that that’s realistic today,” said Kuzmiak.

Commercial activity is still not permitted on the land. Josh Summits, Johnstown’s economic development coordinator, said if any does take place it would be an issue for the city’s codes enforcement department to evaluate.

“We’re disappointed in the decision,” said Bob Thomas, an attorney for the residents. “Our concern is that by granting the exception for the pole barn it’s a tacit approval of the commercial ventures that are going on there and that it’s going to ruin the neighborhood. There are safety issues, noise, dust. It’s really too bad for the neighbors. I think they’re going to be the ones that suffer from that.”

The zoning board granted the exemption with three stipulations. Gentile must build a fence, only access the property via Cooper Avenue, as opposed to driving vehicles on a nearby narrow alley, and use safety lights from dusk until dawn.

The ruling can be appealed for 30 days.

Gentile acquired the property, which was most recently an abandoned tennis court, earlier this year. He originally tried to buy the property when the city put it up for sale, but did not submit the high bid in the process. Gentile then purchased it from the winning bidder, according to Kuzmiak.

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Dave_Sutor.

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