John and Kim Ondrik have lost their bid to convert a North Huntingdon home that housed Swingers Palace, which township officials say is a sex club business, into the Church of Spiritual Humanities.
The township's zoning board Tuesday unanimously denied the Ondriks' application for a special exception of an ordinance to allow the couple to operate a church in a two-story house in the Turner Valley neighborhood.
The 15-page decision read, in part: "It is the board's opinion that the credibility of Mr. Ondrik with regard to his contention that he is operating a church is as suspect as to be unbelievable."
The Ondriks applied for the variance in July after township officials cited Jack Walkmeyer, owner of the house and a township resident, for operating a business in a residential area, an ordinance violation. The Ondriks have 30 days to file an appeal in the Westmoreland County Court of Common Pleas.
Attempts to reach Mr. Walkmeyer for comment were unsuccessful. Mr. Ondrik said he has an agreement to purchase the house from him, and is paying property taxes on it.
Attorney Samuel S. Pangburn said his client, Mr. Ondrik, who claims to be a minister, has decided to appeal.
"Rev. Ondrik and I expected this decision," Mr. Pangburn said. "But it's not over by a long shot.
"I have not yet received a copy of the decision, so we cannot comment. Once I receive it, I will review the document and determine how to form my client's appeal."
Mr. Ondrik's said over the telephone from his home in Fredericktown, Washington County, yesterday that, "actually, I'm very happy. Now we're going to see a judge."
"I have a legal right under federal law to open a church. I need to resolve this issue. I have weddings scheduled."
The so-called church has been a target of vandalism in recent weeks, Mr. Ondrik noted.
"A church sign crafted by a parishioner was stolen off the front door to the lower level," Mr. Ondrik said. "We had a couple of break-ins, one in July. There's a police report. Somebody bulldozed a wedding gazebo we built."
Zoning board solicitor John Campfield said Tuesday: "After hearing and reviewing all the evidence presented during that hearing, the board found that it wasn't a church, rather a business they were conducting that people called a 'swingers type' of activity for a fee.
"So the board determined the activity was not a church, and they were charging a fee, and made their decision based on that."
Township Commissioner Lee Moffatt said: "I feel the zoning board made the right decision. Folks out there have suffered enough."
Henry "Deak" Stanley, who has lived across the street from the building for 21 years, added, "I can't believe it's all over. I fear the Ondriks will appeal and win and they'll be back in operation."
Freelance writer Norm Vargo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .