Indiana Borough’s dispute with Dunkin’ Donuts franchisee Heartland Restaurant Group LLC of Forest Hills, Allegheny County, and Indiana building owner VRB Associates Inc. over parking near a proposed location in downtown Dunkin’ returned to Indiana County on Tuesday Common Pleas Court back .
Borough Solicitor Patrick Dougherty and Heartland Attorney Alexis M. Wheeler presented oral arguments before Common Pleas Judge Michael T. Clark. Dougherty said Clark asked the two attorneys a few questions during an approximately 15-minute session, but did not say how long it would take to reach a decision.
Tuesday’s hearing was the final chapter in a legal battle that began March 8 when the council voted to allow the removal of two parking lots and the relocation of a streetlight on the Philadelphia Street side of the proposed 518 Philadelphia St. Dunkin site , but refused Removal of two parking lots along adjacent South Fifth Street.
Heartland and VRB sought the actions to provide for cuts in and out of the proposed downtown Dunkin location.
Wheeler and fellow attorney Alan T. Shuckrow, both of the Strasbourg law firm McKenna Gutnick & Gefsky of Pittsburgh, represent Heartland, which also has a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise at 1669 Oakland Ave. in White Township, and VRB, a real estate company at 541 Philadelphia St., Indiana, which owns the location for the proposed Dunkin’ location in downtown Indiana.
“Our position is just that elected officials like Indiana Borough Council members need to justify their decisions, particularly those involving property rights,” Wheeler said, “and in this case they didn’t.”
Dougherty said that “the county council stands by its determination that the removal of parking lots (along South Fifth Street) would reduce safety in the neighborhood,” citing “concerns brought to the council members by voters … as well as information from (Indiana Borough Police Chief Justin) Schawl”, among others.
Wheeler referred to previous briefs in the case. She and Shuckrow argued that the council’s vote to deny Heartland’s request to remove the two South Fifth Street parking lots was not in writing, “and the council has not provided HRG or VRB with any findings and reasons for the decision.”
In his court filing last week, Dougherty said Heartland/VRB’s appeal “should be dismissed because the Indiana Borough Council did not abuse its discretion and made a finding based on the evidence presented.”
Wheeler said her clients would have preferred “if the right decision had been made in March” that “it would have been nice to get it right the first time.”
They said, “beyond mere speculation,” there was no basis on record for the council to deny Heartland’s application.
In his filing last week, Dougherty said that by approving the removal of the Philadelphia Street spaces, the council “was able to clearly articulate the safety concerns it had about the South Fifth Street proposal.”
Wheeler said the court case “didn’t take an unusual amount of time” and that she “couldn’t even guess” when Clark would make a decision, but also that it wouldn’t be a surprise if the decision took 30 days .