Opponents stoke fires in grilling-ban debate in Bellevue

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When Bellevue Mayor George Doscher called for civil disobedience toward an outdoor burn ordinance that requires grills to be 5 feet from any structure, he meant it.

But last Thursday, he still made sure that all the grills set up around Bellevue Borough Hall on Bayne Avenue for "Grill-abration" were in compliance.

"I brought my tape measure!" he joked, dressed in a chef's hat and apron.

His demeanor was light-hearted, but his message was serious about a topic that has gotten hotter than just grills.

"My point is that [the ordinance] can't be enforced. I'm still going to grill on my deck. We have bigger fish to fry," he said during Thursday's "Grill-abration," which was hosted by radio station KDKA-AM and talk show host Marty Griffin. Mr. Griffin said he got the idea from reading about the grill ordinance and the mayor's veto.

Equipped with grills and enough hot dogs and sausages to feed hundreds of people, Mr. Griffin set up in front of Borough Hall and grilled people about what the ordinance means to them.

"This is about government intruding into people's lives," he said while interviewing residents and the two council members who showed up: Mark Helbling and Kathy Coder. Both voted against the ordinance -- along with council member Frank Camello -- and are members of Liberty in Bellevue, a public awareness group that has attracted a growing number of residents who hope to change the way Bellevue is governed.

Liberty in Bellevue co-founder Tom Fodi announced to council members during their regular meeting July 10 that "Grill-abration" would be taking place and invited them all to attend.

"This event will be peaceful, legal, and a safe and fun time," he said.

Jim Viscusi, who voted for the burn ordinance, said he was not able to attend.

When told that people at the event were questioning why those council members who approved the ordinance did not attend the "Grill-abration," Mr. Viscusi said, "Some people can make it, and some can't, and I had to work.

"I'm not covering up for anybody else, that's just me. The ordinance has been done.

"So it's just time to move on and go on to the next venture. I would have possibly considered going, if I hadn't had a prior work commitment."

Grilling was not the only issue that had people steaming. During the July council meeting, the same borough officials who approved the grilling ordinance voted against a plan that would have allowed certain portions of the sidewalks in the business district to be used by restaurants for outdoor seating, food service and BYOB alcohol consumption at specified times.

During the radio program, Danina DiBattista, owner of Bite Bistro in Bellevue and co-founder of Liberty in Bellevue, said the borough's ban on alcohol sales has hurt her business.

"All I want is for people to sit here and have a glass of wine, which they brought, in my restaurant. I don't think people need to be protected from themselves," she said.

Ms. DiBattista's father, Sam DiBattista, is the owner of Vivo, which relocated to Sewickley after trying to survive in Bellevue for many years.

"I lost quite a bit of money here, because [council] throws up road blocks against everything you want to do," Mr. DiBattista said.

"There's no support for a strong business district," he added, noting that a law banning alcohol sales and now consumption of BYOB in outdoor seating kills what could be revenue-generating ambiance.

"It doesn't make sense," Mr. DiBattista said. "Why don't they look at other successful towns and see what they do?"

Those who follow Liberty in Bellevue's blogs believe the town is in decline.

Aaron Stubna, 41, is the third-generation owner of Bellevue's Lincoln Barbershop, but moved to Kennedy.

"When I lived [in Bellevue], I could walk to work," he recalled, "but I had to move, because there is nowhere to go and nothing to do. The business district has gone elsewhere."

Five years ago, Mr. Stubna started an initiative to legalize alcohol sales, but it was defeated by 87 votes.

"It's nice to see the Liberty in Bellevue folks," Mr. Stubna said.

"They have to stick with it, and this is a good launching point. It's all over a who-cares, unenforceable ordinance, but they can also use their group to make real changes."

Ms. Coder says this is her fourth and last year on council, and she is running for the state House in the 16th District in November's general election. A former council president, Ms. Coder said she still believes in Bellevue's potential.

"But they are not listening to the people," she said.

"I hope I can come back and help them at a higher level."

"Council members have no vision," said former councilwoman Lisa Blaney, who served 2002-11.

During the event, Liberty in Bellevue members received 126 signatures on a petition to remove language pertaining to grilling restrictions from the burn ordinance.

"People have been here non-stop, from before we set up at 9 a.m. to now that we're breaking down," said Amy Joy Robinson, 33, of Bellevue.

Ms. Robinson is one of the group's first members.

"We want something better for this town, and all the people who turned out for this proves it," Mr. Fodi said. "People donated money, resources and food, and we struck a chord with them.

"Now we will do nothing but expand.

"On a small scale, it's kind of like the Colonial tea party; we're fighting tyranny and political philosophy.

"As for those who didn't show up ... it says a lot about what their view of Bellevue is."


Jill Cueni-Cohen, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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