By Jamie Wiggan
A handful of nearby residents are concerned about plans in motion to open an auto repair shop on Pine Hollow Road and claim they were denied opportunities to weigh in before the zoning appeals board greenlighted the proposal.
The typically empty Mel Weinstein Municipal Center was filled with on-lookers during the Feb. 10 commissioners meeting, as those who felt they may be negatively impacted sought recourse from their elected representatives.
“This building has been a heartache to my family,” said one resident, Rebecca Neihoff of Vireo Drive, who said she lives directly behind the multi-unit building at 1770 Pine Hollow Road where the repair shop is set to open and is worried for her elderly mother who lives with her there.
“I just don’t think this is the kind of business that should be allowed to be this close to [residential areas.]”
Neihoff also voiced concerns about parking availability and whether the location is adequate to safely operate an auto repair business.
Gabriel Delfre, also of Vireo Drive, stated similar worries about the business but emphasized his primary concern was over whether the proper public processes had been followed to authorize a zoning variance.
“I know at this stage in the game there’s probably nothing that can be done, given this by-fiat, by-edict decision that was made without any consultation with the people who are most impacted by it.”
The shop is set to open within a convenience-commercial zone, which prohibits auto repair businesses from its list of regular uses, and so the owner applied for a variance, which was reportedly granted Jan. 18.
Delfre and Neihoff both believe as immediate neighbors they should have received individual notice about the plans before the zoning appeals board approved the variance. They also claim they didn’t see the meeting advertisement in a local newspaper or posted on the municipal building.
Commissioners President Chris DiNardo said the board would look into these claims.
With respect to the other issues, DiNardo directed impacted residents to take the issue up with the Zoning Appeals Board, which solicitor Joe Kulik said operates independently from the board of commissioners and is represented by separate legal counsel.
Mel Weinstein, manager, treasurer and tax collector, did not comment at length about the variance other than to reiterate the zoning board's independence from the commissioners and to deny a claim made by Neihoff that he refused to help her because she is not registered as a Democrat.
“Anyone knows, I’ve worked with Democrats, I’ve worked with Republicans,” said Weinstein, who chairs the local Democratic committee.
When reached later, Michael McCabe, a lawyer for the zoning board, said he could not comment on questions about whether the proper legal processes were followed before the variance was approved but noted residents could still obtain records from the township and file an appeal against the decision.
Richard Spanard, zoning board chair, did not return a call requesting comment.
The shop’s owner, Nick Gyory, briefly addressed the board in response to the public criticisms, saying he would make an effort to reduce disturbances to local neighbors.
“Five people are dependent on this place for their financial stability,” he said. “I’m going to work as quietly as I can.”
Also during the meeting, commissioners hired Josh Castelveter as an assistant secretary to replace long-time township employee Rebecca Panizzi.
Weinstein praised Castelveter – who began Feb. 7 – as a well qualified candidate who stood above the other five interviewed.
“I’ve known Josh since he was a baby, and I’ve known his family even longer,” he said.
Weinstein also praised Panizzi for her 40 years of combined service to the township first as a base operator and later as assistant secretary.
“I personally have worked with Becky all those years,” Weinstein said. She was “without a doubt one of the most excellent.”