Social club under consideration in Polish Hill

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A proposed social club in Polish Hill at a nexus with the Strip District and Lawrenceville has been vetted by the neighborhoods and is under consideration by the Zoning Board of Adjustment after a hearing Thursday.

A social club is not a specified use in the zoning code, so a variance is needed for the Social Association of Pittsburgh Professionals to operate. The site is a former Carrier Heating and Air Conditioning warehouse at 33rd Street and Liberty Avenue.

The building is isolated from residential areas, but its potential use has some concerned.

Representatives of neighborhood groups say club officers have been vague about hours, capacity, traffic and the nature of events. Zoning board chairwoman Wrenna Watson said it's unreasonable to expect the club officers to know every detail at this point.

Rico Abbondanza, a Pittsburgh public school teacher, is president of the Social Association for Pittsburgh Professionals, or SAPP. Dan Castagna, superintendent of the West Mifflin Area School District, is vice president. They and other supporters held a meeting with residents last week to convince them that their club would not be the kind that has bedeviled the Strip.

The club was established in 2011. It has 200 members who meet in various locations. "We need a place," Mr. Abbondanza said. "When I picked that building, I had the neighbors in mind."

The social club would be available for members to hold events such as auction fundraisers, fashion shows, art showings, weddings or wine tastings, he said.

Professionals in any field, white and blue collar, can apply. Dues have not been set. Events would be by invitation only and overseen by hired security, he said.

The social club has applied for the liquor license of Club Zen, which closed at Station Square last year after two people were shot.

The license would allow liquor service from 7 a.m. to 3 a.m., but he said the earliest event would be 11 a.m. and that an event that lasted until 3 a.m. would be rare.

Mr. Abbondanza said he hopes to have four events a month. He said he has not had an occupancy inspection yet, but that he'd like to accommodate up to 250 people. The space is 4,000 square feet and has the potential for upward of 60 leased parking spaces. The club also would offer valet service, Mr. Castagna said.

Tim Frew, Collier Development's site manager at the former Iron City Brewery less than 500 feet away, spoke against the variance. "What's being proposed would be detrimental" to plans for reuse of the brewery, he said.

Alexis Miller, president of the Polish Hill Civic Association, cited the frequency of accidents along that stretch of Liberty Avenue. "If 250 people have been drinking and are leaving at the same time" late at night, she said, "there's a concern."

The fact that a social club is not a prescribed use and because club officers' most frequent answer to questions has been "that depends," city Councilman Patrick Dowd said, "there is no baseline of protection for the community."

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Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk.


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