Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Allegations of Misuse of Zoning Laws Interesting

Our quick take. We may finally find out how much power an autonomous Planning and Zoning Commission has, or does not have.

And we might even find out the constitutionality of local 'zoning' laws which seem to be non-uniform across the same land mass known as the county of Fayette.

Net the Truth Online

Fayette family alleges official vendetta
By Liz Zemba
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
A Fayette County family has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit that accuses the county and one of its commissioners of misusing zoning laws to try to shutter two businesses that sit in front of a national historic site.

James Cellurale, Marilyn Cellurale, Joseph Cellurale Sr. and Joseph Cellurale Jr. filed the civil lawsuit Friday in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh. They named Fayette County and Commissioner Angela Zimmerlink as defendants.

One of the Cellurales' attorneys, Jon Pushinsky of Pittsburgh, on Monday confirmed the filing.

"The Cellurale family has beared the brunt of frivolous government action after frivolous government action," Pushinsky said. "They got tired of it."

In the lawsuit, the Cellurales contend Terry and Diane Kriss, both of Dunbar Township, had Zimmerlink and the county work on their behalf to manipulate zoning laws in a failed effort to close a garden shop and auto repair business run by the Cellurales.

The businesses, Cellurale Garden Center and Joey's Auto Repair and Body Shop, are located on Route 119 north in Dunbar Township. Both are situated on property that fronts the historic Isaac Meason House. The Krisses own the house, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

"Although the Cellurales maintained and operated their properties in a lawful manner and repeatedly prevailed in the legal proceedings brought against them, defendants persisted in their discriminatory and calculated abuse of local land laws," states the lawsuit. "Through her recruitment of numerous Fayette County employees in the campaign against the Cellurales, as well as her own active participation in and direction of that campaign, defendant Zimmerlink, an elected Fayette County Commissioner, placed the imprimatur of approval of Fayette County on the pervasive and systematic violations of the Cellurales' rights."

Zimmerlink yesterday declined to comment on specific allegations contained in the lawsuit, but she said her decisions were based on what she felt was in the best interest of all county residents.


Letter to the editor:

County should stop costly, unneeded legal action
Guest commentaryBy Joseph Cellurale Jr.
Updated 01/20/2009 01:01:58 AM EST
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I read in your paper of Jan. 8 the "guest commentary" by my neighbors, Terry and Diane Kriss. I must set the record straight.

After four days of extensive hearings before the Fayette County Zoning Hearing Board, the ZHB determined that my auto repair business complied with my special exception conditions. In 2001 when the county approved my plans and issued me my occupancy permit, there were no regulations that required me to have a formal storm water detention system. Both Dunbar Township officials and the municipal engineer testified that my business created no storm water problems for me or my neighbors. Meason House sits on the top of the hill. My property is well below it.

As to the Kriss' desire to have the county continue to spend taxpayers' money on pursuing a fruitless appeal, Common Pleas Court Judge Steve Leskinen, in a ruling handed down on Oct. 8, 2008, has already commented on the appeal's awkward posture as follows:

"What may be a little distressing to the taxpayer, of course, is that the county is paying multiple attorneys on both sides of this argument. The Zoning Hearing Board is a quasi-judicial body appointed by the county commissioners to make decisions in zoning matters. The Office of Planning, Zoning and Community Development is a branch of county government under the direct supervision and control of the commissioners, although both do have independent sources of revenue. It is at least odd that these two branches of county government are sitting on opposite sides of the same courtroom.

"That said, it is not unheard of for two agencies of the same government to appear in court in opposing roles, and oddness alone cannot be a reason for dismissing this appeal. In fact, Zoning Hearing Boards are appointed for fixed terms so that they will be relatively immune from political influence during their tenure, and it may be a tribute to the independence of that body that the commissioners that appointed them do not control their decisions."

The two county commissioners that brought and supervised this groundless action against me are no longer in control of the county. One is an ex-commissioner; the other, while still quite vocal, is in the minority.

Why should the two commissioners who were not responsible for initiating this action not examine the case and the facts surrounding it? Why should the commissioners continue to waste taxpayers' money? They establish policy now. They oversee the county staff, including the legal counsel.

The Krisses have their own private agenda. The county has no business continuing an action that was wrongful to begin with, which even its own independent ZHB has acknowledged.

It is time to stop wasting taxpayers' money, especially in this economy. It is time to let me concentrate on running one of the best auto repair businesses in Fayette County, keeping my employees busy and paid with a living wage and benefits. Why should any county commissioner want to destroy my business and keep me tied up in fruitless litigation?

I note that a companion case against Jim and Marilyn Cellurale relating to their garden center, in which the ZHB also decided in their favor, was affirmed by Judge Gerald Solomon on the same record, with the same witnesses. It is time to stop this litigation.

Joseph Cellurale Jr. operates Joey's Auto Repair & Body Shop in Lemont Furnace.

Updated 01/20/2009


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