North Hill food prep business grilled at special meeting | Local News

Specifics over driveway length, trash removal and permits were discussed at length over a proposed food prep business located in a residential North Hill neighborhood. 

The business, D&D’s Homemade Plates, will be operated by Donnell and Dawnelle Washington out of the couple’s home at 319 E. Edgewood Ave. The Washingtons answered questions during the hour-and-40-minute hearing from city solicitor Ted Saad, council members and several neighbors who have been vocally opposed to the business since it came before the city’s planning commission in April.

Donnell, who said he and his wife lost jobs during the pandemic, would like to offer new ways to help build the city up.

“If it starts with food, it starts with food,” he said. 

Dawnelle added that the city is dead and needs more eating variety beside pizza and spaghetti places. The couple would take orders over the phone and customers would pick them up when they’re ready.

Already they have a shed outfitted with windows for pickup and payment, a stove, griddle, deep fryer and commercial refrigerator with plans in place for garbage and grease removal. They said they began cooking for friends in the fall and were persuaded to look into opening a business. The Washingtons said they met with a then-employee of the city’s code enforcement department who didn’t give them complete information on what permits needed to be obtained to open a business.

“Your due diligence is not just to listen to two city employees,” councilman Tim Fulkerson said about the permits. “Ignorance does not just allow you to do what you want to do or build what you want to build in a residential neighborhood.”

The couple said they’ve put about $30,000 from their savings into buying equipment already. They plan to be open weekdays from 2 to 8 p.m. and would serve limited, themed menus every day. Orders would depend on how fast Donnell could prepare them, meaning there wouldn’t be an overabundance of traffic on the street, they said. The two will not hire additional employees. 

One neighbor, Carol Sudziak, wondered about customers backing up from the Washington’s driveway into the street and commented she thought they “put the cart before the horse.” Chas Kahrer wondered if the couple should instead open a food truck and Madeline Coiro said if this was approved, it would set a zoning precedent for businesses in residential areas. 

Meanwhile, Matt Bucceri, Dawnelle’s sister, said this business would be “very low volume as far as an eating establishment goes.” He brought up a similar take-out food prep business, though not by name, that was approved for a conditional use in a residential area just blocks away. The Pacific Islander Company, an Asian food preparation business at 424 Sumner Ave., was approved for a conditional use request in April. 

Councilwoman MaryAnne Gavrile spoke about her time living in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside neighborhood where businesses are scattered within residential areas. She pointed to VentiSei winery in New Castle’s East side as a business that can operate well while being next to homes — although neighbors did come before council two years ago complaining about drunk patrons and noise coming from the Wilson Avenue establishment.

“We in New Castle aren’t used to having residences in our residential neighborhoods,” she said. “I have to think long and hard about this.”

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