HOMER CITY BOROUGH: Council unanimously approves plan to open microdistillery

May 8, 2013 by Ellen Matis

HOMER CITY BOROUGH: Council unanimously approves plan to open microdistillery

HOMER CITY — Disobedient Spirits LLC is one step closer to opening in downtown Homer City.

At its meeting Tuesday, borough council unanimously agreed to approve a recommendation from the Homer City Planning Commission to amend an existing zoning ordinance that will allow the microdistillery to operate at 30 Main St.

The decision followed two months of discussion and, at times, heated debates at borough council meetings.

The planning commission made the recommendation at its hearing on April 23. Council agreed by approving ordinance No. 489, which amends the existing zoning ordinance to add a definition of craft distillery establishments as a permitted use in the general commercial district.

The initial request from Disobedient Spirits owners Robert Begg and Robert Sechrist came under fire because of the microdistillery’s location, which is adjacent to the Homer City United Methodist Church. The church houses Celebrate Recovery meetings every Thursday, and word of a possible distillery raised concerns about hindering the group’s efforts for recovering addicts as well as about pedestrian safety in the area.

Discussion was kept to a minimum Tuesday, as council President Richard Morris said council members would not entertain any repetitive information that had been brought up over the last two months regarding the issue “because we have entertained it for the past two meetings.”

Pastor Joseph Stains from Homer City United Methodist Church wanted to verify with council members “whether you have a clear perception of what concerns were brought to the table on this.”

Council member Chris Worcester said she thinks council understands “really clearly which positions you have raised.”

Stains asked her what those concerns were specifically.

“Specifically, the influence of what you perceive as individuals entering that business that may be detrimental to your congregation and the (recovery effort),” Worcester replied.

Morris thanked Stains for his comments and told him that “every concern that you have voiced has not fallen on deaf ears.”

“I want you to know that these gentlemen have given us a wonderful plan, and if they do anything short, which is a violation of state laws, they will be recognized and corrected immediately, or there will be other issues that will rise,” he said.

Morris said the establishment will be inspected by independent inspectors that “have nothing to do with Homer City Borough or council.”

“They will make sure that all the guidelines will be followed, and if there’s any violations, including the concerns of the police — if there’s anything that’s going to change … Main Street, those issues will be immediately addressed,” he said.

“It’s not just going to be myself as president, or planning commission members, or the mayor or council people — we are all going to be observing this because it is a well-known issue. We will all be watching,” Morris said.

Stains said that in a larger picture, “I do hope that we can sustain an ongoing dialogue about all of the issues that may arise, not only with respect to the benefits financially of this particular endeavor … but also as to the general welfare and healthy dialogue of all people.”

“I think that we’ve been respectful throughout this; I don’t think that we’ve shown disrespect to anyone,” Stains said, telling council that if he has, or others have, to let them know “and we will gladly correct that.”

Stains said if they have, “we hope that the dialogue and the mutual concerns that continue to go before us will be constructive and helpful in all the interests of the welfare — not only the mercenary, but the community (and) spiritual welfare of our people. We look forward to that kind of relationship.”

Also Tuesday, council tentatively decided to remove a traffic light at the intersection of Main Street and Route 56 and replace it with four-way stop signs. The decision came after a report from SINC-UP recommended that the light be removed. SINC-UP is a research arm of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission.

If the borough decides to keep the light, $250,000 in upgrades would be required by the borough.

An official ruling was tabled until the next meeting.

Borough Manager Rob Nymick said the light is important mainly because of the high amount of traffic from trucks in the gas/well industry and the Homer City power plant.

Council member Jennifer Jaworski said she believed the current traffic light was installed at the intersection in the 1960s.

Before the stop light is removed, there will be a six-month transitional period during which the light will blink red, indicating that drivers need to stop. After this transitional period, four-way stop signs will be placed at the intersection.

Jaworski also said that, at the borough’s request, a SINC-UP program researcher can come and answer any questions council and the community would have regarding the light.

Council member Matt Black said a representative should come in and advised the community that they should attend when the researcher is present at the next council meeting June 4.

“Homer City Borough residents should be concerned, and when this guy comes in, they need to be here to express their concerns on that light,” Black said.

In other business, council:

• Heard a request from the Homer City Volunteer Fire Department to close roads during its annual festival and carnival May 21-25. Roads to be closed are Church Street from Main Street to Knuckle Avenue, Filbert Avenue from Elm Street to Church Street, Rose from West Church to West Elm Street, Simpson Alley from Filbert Avenue to South Rose Street, and Rose Street from Church Street to the rear of the fire hall.

Bingo Night for the festival will be held on Tuesday, but because of the primary election, the bingo will be moved to Aultman. The carnival will still run during election hours.

The festival schedule is as follows: Wednesday, Fire Prevention Night with half-price concessions; Thursday, bucket brigade and live entertainment until 10 p.m.; Friday, Parade Night with entertainment until 11 p.m.; and Saturday, Bike Night/Car Cruise on Main Street with evening entertainment. The Battle of the Barrels at Floodway Park will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday.

• Heard from Nymick that MGK Technologies is willing to let part of the Hoodlebug Trail reroute onto its property. That particular section of the Hoodlebug Trail being moved off Route 56, Nymick said, is something that he’s been trying to do for seven years. Borough council agreed that the trail should be moved.

• Mayor Kenneth “Cal” Cecconi requested that police Chief Louis Sacco look into new equipment needed as part of the countywide requirement to update police and EMS radio systems to an 800 MHz digital, system. Sacco said that prices have been confirmed for new devices if they are purchased directly through Motorola, and that the department will “get by” with two radios.

When Indiana County goes all digital June 1, contact with 911 dispatch services will not be available if all radio systems are not on the digital system.

• Heard comments from council members regarding parking violations, particularly on vehicles that have been found parked on the sidewalks on Cooper Avenue South and Yellow Creek Street.

Morris reminded the community and borough members that “if you happen to see an ordinance that you believe without a doubt is in violation, borough police should be notified immediately.”

Vehicle owners were also reminded that meters in the borough cost 25 cents for three hours.

• Accepted a bid for the paving of Columbia Avenue from Quaker Sales in the amount of $37,242.50. Quaker Sales’ bid was “considerably lower” than the other three bidders, Nymick said.

Gazette staff writer Heather Blake contributed to this report.

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