By Kaylee Lindenmuth
SHENANDOAH - A zoning variance request by a Hazleton man to reopen the former Sands Restaurant was approved by the Shenandoah Zoning Commission in a rescheduled meeting held Tuesday afternoon.
Felix Diaz, of 555 Peace Street, Hazleton, Luzerne County, submitted an application to the Shenandoah Zoning Commission for a permit to reopen the vacant restaurant at 201 East Centre and rent out four apartments above it. The district in which the property sits is zoned residential, according to the borough.
The property is currently owned by Monberger Inc., of Ringtown. According to the application, no work would be done on the property besides reopening the restaurant, which is only described as "restaurant."
The hearing was originally held on Thursday, June 21, though the motion was tabled and meeting rescheduled as Diaz was not present.
Diaz was present Tuesday, and offered an explanation of what his plans for the property were, noting he plans to rent out the restaurant portion of the property as a “family restaurant.”
“To the building, so far there isn’t going to be any change. The only change is the restaurant is going to be open,” Diaz said. “How soon is it going to be open? I have no idea. Could be months, could be days.”
Commission member Charlie Vascavage asked Diaz if he had a tenant in mind for the restaurant yet.
“Not at the moment. It could be a family member, but not as we speak, I can’t say I have (a tenant) yet,” said Diaz.
“Okay. The only thing I would like to request of you, whoever you do rent it out to, that they are a good neighbor to all the neighbors down there,” said Vascavage, to which Diaz agreed to do so.
Commission chairman Daniel Salvadore noted that the restaurant, when open previously, was a popular venue in Shenandoah.
“I don’t think anybody in here never ate there,” said Salvadore. “Maybe twice in a week, who knows.”
Borough consultant/secretary Joe Palubinsky noted that, if the variance would be approved, whoever planned to operate the restaurant would need to file a zoning application on their own with the borough, to ensure compliance with the variance.
Donna Kulpowicz, owner of the property at Centre and Lehigh which houses Sosar Physical Therapy and the Shenandoah location of Child Development Inc., then asked questions of Diaz, including the type of restaurant. Diaz noted it would be a family restaurant.
“Do you have any idea of the hours of operation?” asked Kulpowicz.
“The normal hours for a restaurant would be like 7(am) to 6(pm), 7 to 8(pm) probably,” said Diaz.
“Are the apartments going to be rented?” asked Kulpowicz.
“Yes, they are as we speak,” said Diaz. Kulpowicz then asked how many, to which Diaz said there are four units.
“I would, again, like to say I am all for new business, but when you have longtime residents and businesses that have to be inconvenienced and have to put out costs, I believe that needs to be considered,” said Kulpowicz. “We already know about costs and inconveniences that will occur, because we had to deal with them when the current owner opened for awhile, and then they closed, but I was always told that, my property is private, therefore the borough can’t help me, so I had people parking there, taking up my tenants’ parking spaces. I had them blocking the entrance and exits, I had them parking when it would snow because the lot would be cleared, and when the plow would come back, then we would have to go ask for cars to be moved. I was down there multiple times asking for vehicles to be removed, and also, if I saw someone parking there and walking down to the restaurant, and I asked them to kindly please park someone else, I was cursed, and it just turns ugly because they don’t want to move.”
Kulpowicz noted she was told to put up private property signs and no parking signs, and they were removed.
“One of my questions would be,if a variance is approved, can there be a contingency put in there that, if any businesses or residents in the area have issues, that the borough and the new owner would help to alleviate the problems,” added Kulpowicz.
Kulpowicz then asked if the meeting was in compliance with the Sunshine act, in terms of public notification, to which Palubinsky noted that all who attended the original meeting were notified, signs were posted in the east end neighborhood, and an ad posted in the daily print newspaper.
Kulpowicz then circled back to the parking concerns.
“As a longtime business owner and resident, I would like to have the board consider some type of contingency,” said Kulpowicz. “I don’t feel that I should have to incur costs in someone coming up and saying ‘let her put up a fence. Let her worry about it.’”
“Well Mr. Diaz is Mr. Diaz. He’s not Mr. X, Y, or Z. So, Mr. Diaz said he will be a good neighbor, and good neighbors talk to their neighbors and help each other out,” said Salvadore. “He doesn’t know when or what kind of restaurant it is, and when he does come back, whether he opens it or his family opens it, they’ll come back and they’ll fill out an application and tell us what they want to do and what the hours are.”
“As far as parking goes, this board has always granted variances from parking because of the way this town has been built for 100 years,” added Salvadore. “There is no parking in this town, whether you have a shoe shop on Coal Street,or a hairdresser on Lloyd Street, or Cinco’s Restaurant, or German’s Restaurant, or Mack’s Restaurant, there were never parking lots. I understand that you have a parking lot there, and it’s easy for someone to park there, but hopefully Mr. Diaz and his customers will be good neighbors.”
“I was required by ordinance to have parking, and I think that, because of that, that the borough should at least help me alleviate that issue when I have that issue, not say ‘well put up a fence’ or ‘block it out,’ I mean, I have a big investment, and I’m just asking the borough and Mr. Diaz… to be a good neighbor,”said Kulpowicz.
“And Mr. Diaz already stated under oath that he would be a good neighbor,” said Salvadore.
Brian McCardle, Diaz’s realtor, then suggested that a clause be put in the lease with whoever operates the restaurant to keep patrons from parking in Kulpowicz’s lot, or be towed, even offering to have signs made and placed in the lot.
“We have a similar problem in West Hazleton with a restaurant, and ever since they put up the signs, and a couple people were towed away, guess what? Word got around real quick: do not park near that property,” said McCardle.
Thomas Salvadore noted that, with the demolition of the former Swift building, parking would be available on both sides of North Bower Street.
“That whole block would be available for restaurant parking,” said Thomas Salvadore.
“Which was used like that for years and years, for generations with Sands’, and when the Monbergers had it,” said Palubinsky.
Kulpowicz noted that, years ago, families generally only had one vehicle, now they had multiple, and that’s put a strain on parking.
McCardle then asked that, following the demolition of the Swift building, if the land would be available for lease for parking, which Kulpowicz denied for insurance reasons.
The zoning commission then granted the variance in a 2-0 vote. Jack Rooney, the third member of the commission, was absent.
After the meeting, Diaz spoke about the plans for the property.
“I might rent it out, I might just keep it in the family, cause I don’t want to say ‘I’m going to open it,’ and then tomorrow say ‘I’m just renting it out,’ so I just said that it’s a possibility,”said Diaz. “If it’s me, it’s not going to be right away, because of the costs and all that.”
Diaz noted that all four apartments are currently rented out, though one tenant would be moving out, and he would be seeking a tenant for that unit.
“All of them are rented right now, but one of them is moving out so I will have one vacant, and three occupied,” said Diaz.