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Pottsville Responds to Criticism of Its Handling of Black Rock Controversy

Each side says the other isn’t telling the truth.

A member of Pottsville City Council and the city’s Mayor each pushed back on claims Monday night that they’re refusing to inspect a local business that’ll allow it to reopen.

City Council members were pressed at Monday’s monthly meeting on the status of Black Rock Brewing Co., located on S. Centre St. in Pottsville. The business has been closed – actually, condemned – since a May 2023 kitchen fire.

Following the fire on May 17 last year, city inspectors say they found dozens of code violations – 67 in all – that prevented the business’s owner, Bobby Weaver Jr., from reopening.

One attendee at Monday evening’s City Council meeting pressed Mayor Dave Clews, asking why Pottsville is refusing to inspect the business to see if it’s addressed the code violations to allow it to reopen.

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That’s what Weaver is saying is happening in the nearly year-long saga between he and City government officials.

But Clews and Councilman Mark Atkinson tell a different story and reiterated the City’s take on this situation on Monday.

The Canary also reached out to Weaver to get his reaction to what was said.

Pottsville Officials Reiterate Their Stance on Black Rock Controversy

Pottsville Mayor Dave Clews says Weaver goes back and forth on plans to reopen his business.

Clews said, in summary, the reason the City hasn’t inspected the property at Black Rock is due to an “ongoing back-and-forth” with them and Weaver over his plans to reopen.

Clews says he can’t pinpoint “how many different plans have come in” from Weaver over the course of the last year.

“He doesn’t like it this way. He wants it that way. Every time he does that, it delays us trying to help him get open,” Clews said. “It behooves the city to have him open. He’s a taxpaying business. It does the city no good to keep him closed.”

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Atkinson also spoke about the changing plans and claims there was a chance Weaver could have reopened Black Rock in 10 days after the fire last year. He claims Weaver’s desire to increase the occupancy limit at Black Rock post-fire is where the conflict began.

“Bobby was given a temporary license to open under a set of plans. At the time of the fire, all of the code violations came out. Bobby could have very easily fixed those violations and reopened.

“Instead, he wanted to increase the occupancy of that building and increasing it requires it to have a sprinkler system and that’s where the whole fight comes in,” Atkinson said. “He could have very easily reopened. He could have been open in 10 days. But he opted to go much higher and bigger, which required him to have a fire suppression system.”

Clews backed up what Atkinson said in that regard. He also said Weaver isn’t being straight with his supporters (and critics of the City’s approach) when it comes to the entire situation.

“When we’ve offered things, Bobby’s turned it down. He won’t tell anybody that because there’s certain parts of the project that don’t fit City code. When he tries to work it back, it just delays it again and again,” the Mayor said.

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Pottsville Fire Chief Jim Misstishin also said that Weaver rejected attempts to revert to the original plans for the business. He said that Code Enforcement can’t conduct an inspection of the property without an approved set of plans in place.

“There is no approved set of plans and he has turned down offers for us to try to go back to the original set of plans,” Misstishin said.

Weaver says all that isn’t actually true.

He said that after the fire, in early June, he submitted the exact same plans that his business used to open in 2021.

Back then, he said, the City OK’d a letter that allowed him to reduce the occupancy limit from 104 to 99. Getting the occupancy limit at or less than 99 means that he doesn’t need to install a sprinkler system in the building to comply with the City code.

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A giant skeleton adorns the front door of Black Rock Brewing Co. on S. Centre St. in Pottsville. The owner says the City is refusing to inspect the property which would allow him to reopen.

At this time, Weaver says, he had addressed the 67 code violations City inspectors found after the fire.

“We thought we were ready to go,” Weaver says.

But the City did not accept the same letter it did in 2021 that allowed Weaver to officially reduce the occupancy limit. Everything else – with the exception of him wanting to add a pool table last year – was the same, Weaver says.

“We submitted the exact same plans that we opened with and we were denied. There were minor changes with it with the addition of a pool table,” he says.

That addition, Weaver claims, prompted the City to say the business had a gaming area and therefore, required a higher occupancy limit. The occupancy limit, as Weaver describes it, is a calculation based on square footage of seating space for a business.

Weaver says he made several attempts to comply to bring the occupancy limit to less than 100 but each time, ran into a road block at City Hall.

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“They tried to nitpick our occupant load,” he says.

It total, Weaver says he submitted four sets of plans to get the business occupancy limit to less than 100 and each time was denied.

“It got so ugly because they wouldn’t agree to a 99-person occupancy. They could have accepted the exact same document (the original letter submitted when the business opened) to not trigger all these work requirements,” Weaver adds.

Sprinkler system requirement

As noted, putting the occupancy limit at more than 99 people means that Weaver must install a sprinkler system at the business. And he believes the City is trying to force him into doing that.

“Every time we got it below 100, they came back with a reason to get it over,” Weaver says.

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Pottsville Councilman Mark Atkinson says Weaver had a chance to install a sprinkler system for “free” by taking advantage of a tax credit program but didn’t.

But Atkinson said last night that he believes Weaver could have gotten that done “for free” due to a tax credit program.

However, a tax credit is not free money as Atkinson implied it is.

“At the time that he opened, the Trump administration had a tax relief program for small business owners that allowed them to write off up to $3 million for the installation of sprinkler systems,” Atkinson said. “I went to him and gave him that information. He could have had a sprinkler system for free. He did nothing with it.” 

The councilman said the owners of Arrow Studio & Events approached him and said Weaver told them to ask about how they could get a sprinkler system for free. 

“Arrow has a sprinkler system. (The) Chopping Block has a sprinkler system … all installed under the same program that the Trump administration authored. Mr. Weaver chose not to get one for free,” Atkinson said on Monday.

Weaver disagrees that this would-be sprinkler system – had he taken advantage of that tax credit program – would be free. In fact, he says that installing it would have required him to invest $242,000 up front.

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“It is not free. I still would have had to come up with the cash up front. There’s no way I could get a loan for that,” Weaver says.

Any chance at an amicable resolution?

Council was asked if there’s a chance for both sides to come together to get the business reopened.

Currently, both sides of the saga are awaiting a date with the Schuylkill County Court of Common Pleas, where Weaver hopes he’ll get approval to move forward with his more ambitious building plans, which do include opening the second floor of his business location.

He says once he realized that this situation was headed for a date at the Courthouse, he decided to go all-in on those plans rather than sticking with the original plans just to reopen as it was before the fire.

Atkinson responded to the question on Monday night that asked if there’s a way the two sides could come together peacefully by saying, “He wants to fight us at every corner.” 

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He added, “It’s our responsibility to maintain safe environments within this community. We have to abide by the law. He wants to argue the law and now it’s tied up in court. He took it to court, not us. We offered many many times.”

Both Clews and Weaver noted that Weaver was essentially given the property where Black Rock is located, the former YWCA building, which had been vacant for several years and decaying because of neglect.

“Bobby has been given the largest gift in terms of money and real estate that the city has given out to anyone,” Atkinson said. He said he was “given over $200,000 in property by the City of Pottsville. 

He says in addition to the former YWCA building, Weaver was also given the mansion next to it on S. Centre St.. Atkinson said Weaver had a deadline to turn that mansion into a distillery. 

“Nothing’s happened on that,” Atkinson said. 

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Clews added, “And we have not pursued that.”

“I almost tend to think we want it open more than Bobby wants it open. It was nice. It was working well. We offered that back to him. Now we’re playing volleyball back and forth over the net with this plan and that plan,” the Mayor added. 

Weaver disagrees that Pottsville officials actually want him open more than he wants to have his business open again.

“They’ve made zero effort,” Weaver said about the City wanting to help getting his business reopened. He adds that they haven’t returned numerous calls and emails over the last year.

Weaver believes Atkinson is the one driving the entire saga and preventing a resolution on it.

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“They had an opportunity to inspect the property. This entire saga has been driven by Mark Atkinson. They’re intentionally misreading code. My only step left is the courts. I’ve exhausted everything.”

Audio from inside the Pottsville City Council meeting hall

You can listen to the full discussion from Monday night’s Pottsville City Council meeting on May 13 (Apologies in advance for some of the rustling).

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  1. Lori

    May 14, 2024 at 11:00 pm

    This is all political. If the city was so worried about safety and codes, they would be doing a lot more enforcement of all the other violations in the city too. Dilapidated buildings, half falling down buildings, piled trash, inside household furniture in yards and on porches. Etc.

  2. Frank

    May 16, 2024 at 8:02 am

    A tax deduction (for sprinkler system) is NOT free. It’s the same as a utility bill for a business. It lowers your taxable income. Weaver is correct. He would still have to pay for the whole thing and would save a percentage on federal taxes, likely in the range of 20 percent. How in the world could a Council member who has been in there for years, not know that?

  3. Val

    May 17, 2024 at 12:27 pm

    It’s becoming more and more interesting. Both officials are saying that Weaver was “essentially given the property”. What did he offer in return? There must be some agreements/contracts, etc. If not, does it mean that Pottsville authorities simply give the properties to ppl as a gift? Just curious..

  4. Father Wally

    May 17, 2024 at 5:15 pm

    Bobby never should have been trusted with such a big project! The 67 code violations alone shouldn’t have happened to begin with! His irresponsibility speaks loudly in this city. Hang it up Bobby and go back to making s****y coffee and crepes.

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