VFW members confront council
Northampton Borough Council was confronted at the June 20 meeting by Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4714 members for sending its solicitor to the June 13 meeting of the borough’s zoning hearing board to oppose variance requests that would allow the post to sell the building at 1204 Main St.
Jonathan Wolfer, VFW Post 4714 senior vice commander, led a contingent of 15 officers and members to voice the VFW’s concerns regarding opposition to the sale of the structure to Abra Development, Whitehall.
The appeal by Abra Development failed to receive a majority vote for granting a variance of a favorable interpretation of zoning regulations. The board’s 2-2 tie vote resulted in the appeal’s denial. The fifth member of the board was not present at the meeting.
Abra had taken the appeal before the zoning hearing board after being denied earlier approval from borough council.
“I would like to know if it is common practice for borough council to make recommendations to the zoning board to deny or grant variances,” Wolfer asked council members.
“I know I cannot get anyone on council to admit it, but the unanimous vote to recommend rejection of the variance was because of the buyer of the building, Abe Atiyeh,” Wolfer alleged. “It was obvious before the zoning board hearing and certainly well advertised from the speakers at the zoning meeting that this was all about the purchaser of the building and had little or nothing to do with the variance request.
“I certainly appreciated the verbal support and positive comments for the VFW and the building itself, but no one was really listening to the concerns of the VFW because the decision was predetermined and the decision-makers were concentrating on the potential owner of the building and ignoring everything else,” he said.
“So, let’s see how you did,” Wolfer continued. “You wanted to prevent Abe Atiyeh from purchasing the building. You failed. Abra Development will be purchasing the building. Council’s recommendation to deny the variance and the zoning board’s vote was a vote against the tenant of the building and the tenant’s ability to make pierogies and operate a catering hall and against the VFW having residence at 1204 Main St.”
Council members made no comment in reply to Wolfer’s statements on the issue.
Wolfer grew emotional when mentioning the work the VFW does in the community, including the Voice of Democracy student essay contest, assistance with the restoration of the veterans plaza and more. He noted the organization helps veterans in need, sponsors scholarships and visits nursing homes, as well as supports other community activities.
He then detailed the building’s needs — roof repairs, window replacement, bathroom upgrades, flooring work on the lower level and replacement of the walk-in cooler and bar equipment.
“We are paying off our loan and paying our bills, but at the end of the day, there is very little left for the next issue,” Wolfer said.
The Home Association, the bar on the building’s lower level, is responsible for generating revenue to support the post and its services. Wolfer noted the membership at the Home Association continues to dwindle as more members die than are joining. This is resulting in a lack of sufficient funds. A shortage of volunteers also makes it difficult to continue the daily operations of the Home Association, he added.
“Five years ago, the VFW was closed for six months because there was no money to pay bills,” Wolfer said.
An outstanding loan was increasing because monthly payments were not made, and electricity was cut off. With an influx of new officers, the bar reopened. Kitchen equipment was sold to get the electricity restored.
The decision was ultimately made to sell the building and use the proceeds from the sale to continue the operation of the VFW Post.
“We struggled to make the place what it is today, but we are running out of gas, in more ways than one,” Wolfer noted. “We applied for grants and started a building fund, but no one wanted to help us.
“The building was up for sale for 18 months. No one from council knocked on our door and asked why we are selling or how they could help,” he added.
Over 18 months, the VFW had three offers. Only the Abra Development offer materialized.