Developer at odds with city over former convent

February 6, 2014
A Pittsburgh developer wants to convert this North Franklin Street building in Washington into a boarding house. It previously was used as a convent by Immaculate Conception Church. - Mike Jones / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

A Pittsburgh developer wants to convert the old convent across from Immaculate Conception Parish into a boardinghouse or commercial space, but is becoming increasingly frustrated with roadblocks from the city.

PA Wealth Builders LLC purchased the former convent at 130 N. Franklin St. for $10,700 in July and has been making improvements over the past several months while trying to convert the property’s zoning use.

Jon Perry of PA Wealth Builders said the city continues to stonewall their attempts to repair the 15,000-square-foot building and turn it into a successful property, whether it be sued for residential or office purposes. The group wants to spend about $300,000 on the renovations for the building was vacant for several years.

“We just want to use it for something and the city hasn’t told us anything about what we can do,” Perry said. “They don’t seem like they want businesses in downtown.”

City solicitor Jack Cambest said the plans for the property are not within the scope of the city’s zoning ordinance, so the owner is requesting a “curative amendment” to allow for a multi-family dwelling or boarding house within the city’s Business Improvement District. The city scheduled a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at City Hall to discuss the matter.

But Perry and Chad Dillie, who represents Homes From Houses in a joint-partnership PA Wealth Builders, said they might eventually abandon the property or take legal action against the city if they can’t move forward.

“(We’re) eight months into when we bought it, and we still haven’t been told what we can do with it,” Dillie said. “We just want to use it for something. The city hasn’t told us anything about what we can do.

But the developer’s plans, or lack thereof, concern the Rev. William Feeney, pastor at Immaculate Conception, who said the church was interested in the property and is now unsure who might eventually be living or working across the street. He attended several Washington City Council meetings over the summer and raised concerns about the property.

“We want to be a good neighbor, but we also want to have good neighbors as well,” Feeney said. “I was just concerned about the nature of that type of housing adjacent to a (grade) school and a couple of churches.”

Feeney questioned what the building would be suitable for because of the tiny size of the rooms and perceived lack of versatility. He said the building was a convent from the early 1960s until the early 1990s, before becoming a nursing home in later years.

Councilman Joe Manning said they are holding the hearing to listen to all affected parties before making a zoning decision on the property. He heard the possibility of it being used to house temporary Marcellus Shale natural gas workers, which is concerning to church leaders.

“They’re concerned about parking and the individuals who would be living there because they feel it would be transient workers,” Manning said.

Dillie said they’re just trying to revitalize the downtown business district and pointed to similar improvements by the groups in Lawrenceville and other Pittsburgh neighborhoods.

“Main Street is supposed to be the heartbeat of the city, but it’s depressing driving down the street,” Dillie said. “The city hasn’t really given us must of an opportunity. It’s just collecting snow right now.”

Mike Jones has been a news reporter since 2005, covering crime, state and municipal government, education and energy. In addition to working at the Observer-Reporter, he also has spent time at the Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail and He holds a journalism degree from West Virginia University.

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