A North Apollo man’s vision to revitalize the borough’s Pegtown neighborhood around tourism-centered business is beginning to materialize.
The North Apollo Zoning Hearing Board on Thursday granted Pat Froncek a variance to convert his property along Wysocki Avenue into a campground and hostel.
Froncek hopes to attract bicyclists and kayakers traveling along the Kiski River.
The borough’s zoning ordinance previously precluded Froncek from operating a business in Pegtown because it’s zoned residential (R-1). That prohibits any commercial use of property there.
Froncek first brought the issue before the zoning hearing board two years ago, but his request for a variance was denied because his plan did not qualify as a permitted use in a residential district.
Froncek said he didn’t appeal the decision to the Armstrong County Court because he was unaware of his right to do so, but he didn’t give up on his vision.
He again submitted a request for a variance last month and, this time, the board approved.
James Dixon, who sits on the board, said the request was approved because there were “unique reasons” why Froncek’s property couldn’t be utilized for the purpose outlined in the borough’s zoning ordinance.
The zoning ordinance, which was enacted in 1994, relegates use of all property in residential areas for single-family dwelling.
The unique reason why Froncek’s property is disadvantaged for that use, Dixon said, is that it abuts a large junkyard.
Aside from the “unsightliness” of the junkyard diminishing the property’s residential value, the board’s decision was supported by the borough’s zoning ordinance, which states that residential properties should not sit adjacent to a junkyard.
Attorney James Favero, who oversaw Thursday’s hearing, said the junkyard in this case was permitted because it existed before the current zoning ordinance.
With the zoning hearing board’s approval, the North Apollo native’s business can be open by spring, Froncek said.
The campground and hostel — which he will call the Pedal or Paddle Inn — will offer travelers on the river or the nearby bike trail a place to shower, sleep and socialize.
Froncek said he will convert one of the property’s buildings, which sits about 30 feet off the Kiski River, into a shelter with cots and showers for weary recreationalists. An awning that juts from the rear of the building will provide shelter to a pavilion area that will feature several grills and picnic tables.
The office will be in a house that sits about 50 feet from the building and currently houses a family of four. The family will not be displaced. The matriarch of that family, Froncek said, will serve as office manager.
“Nobody is going to be bothered by this,” Froncek said. “She’s on board. There’s a junkyard on one side, the river on the other and I own all of the other contiguous properties.
“It’s going to be a great thing for the town.”
Froncek said he will not cook at the Pedal or Paddle Inn, which will bring tourists into the borough for food and entertainment and stimulate its economy.
His ultimate goal is to have Pegtown, which covers a half-mile stretch along North Warren Avenue, rezoned in its entirety for commercial use, which he said would establish an artisan village that pulls tourists into the borough.
North Apollo Council President Eugene Burns said there are no imminent plans to rezone the borough, citing its high cost.
“You can’t just rezone one area; you have to do the entire borough,” Burns said. “That’s really expensive, because you have to pay for all the studies, and it usually takes several years to get done.”
The zoning hearing board laid out several conditions upon the approval of Froncek’s variance.
The board prohibited from his property motor vehicles, alcohol and fires and music after 11 p.m., per the borough’s burning and sound ordinances. The board deferred to the outside agency that handles North Apollo’s uniform construction code to set the property’s occupancy limit at a later date.
Froncek said he and his cousin, former Apollo mayor Rich Dixon, plan next to request a variance for Dixon’s Pegtown property along McCain Street.
They plan to convert that house into a bait and bicycle shop to capitalize on the traffic generated by the recently constructed Kiski Riverfront Trail.
“We put all this money into the river and work hard to build trails and make them nice,” Froncek said. “Why wouldn’t we take advantage of what they have to offer?
“We’re really excited about what this can do for our town. If you build it, they will come.”
Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673.