Veterans Fund’s plan continues to hit roadblocks

June 27th, 2015 1:24 am

First Posted: 8/23/2013

An area veterans group said they can’t get a break.

The Veterans Fund of the United States has been seeking to purchase the former Animal Emergency & Referral Hospital on the Pittston Bypass and turn it into a facility to aid veterans.

But Nancy Verespy, executive director of the Veterans Fund and several other veterans groups, said she has been encountering numerous roadblocks by township officials.

“They just don’t want us in that building,” she said. “No matter which way we turn, there’s always a reason we can’t do this project. It sounds just like they don’t want us there.”

The area is 4.6 acres surrounded by a creek on two sides, a repair company, a dental office and the Pittston Bypass. It is also less than a quarter mile from the world headquarters of the Veterans of Vietnam War Inc., the Veterans Coalition and the Veterans Fund of the United States. That facility is known for the massive American flag flying over it.

Verespy’s group originally planned a facility to house needy veterans, and they would operate a café and train staff at a Veterans Culinary Institute that was included in the plans.

The township said such a residential facility was unacceptable under current zoning regulations. So the group modified their proposal by removing the residential center from the plans.

A letter was sent out this week by Township Zoning Officer Terry Best denying the new request.

“I sent them a letter of denial,” Best said. “A school is not a permitted use in that zone either. I gave her a copy of the zoning ordinance.”

Best said the group may appeal his decision within 30 days to the township’s Board of Supervisors.

Best gave an example of a past zoning decision the township regretted.

The former PA Child Care center was in the center of the kids-for-cash scandal that rocked Luzerne County and resulted in the arrest of numerous public officials.

“We didn’t know what the use was and look what happened,” he said. “That’s not going to happen under my watch. We’re playing everything by the book now.”

The Animal Emergency & Referral Hospital closed in January 2010 and the company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, saying it owed more than $2.8 million to creditors. It had been owned by Christopher Rappolt since he purchased the property in 2006 from James and Mary Pat O’Malley. The O’Malleys developed the property in 1994 and built the Staircase Lounge, a nightclub that hosted national acts such as Ted Nugent and the Black Eyed Peas. It closed in 2005.

The veterans group also recently proposed putting a residential facility, United Veterans Beacon House, in the convent and rectory at the former St. Rocco’s Church in the Oregon section of Pittston, but it didn’t meet the city’s standards either.

Each of the rooms must be fitted with personal cooking space to be shared by no more than three unrelated occupants per unit, according to city Zoning Officer Harry Smith.

The Pittston proposal does not fit where the city is heading and housing units are being held to higher standards to improve living quality, Smith said.

“We’re trying to clean up the city,” Smith said, adding that council just enacted a rental property ordinance holding property owners responsible for their rentals to meet quality standards before it may be occupied.

Times Leader staff writer Jon O’Connell contributed to this report.