Dueling neighbors: It’s time for mediation in a Shadyside bed-and-breakfast dispute

Zoning battles in residential neighborhoods have been a fact of life as long as there have been property rights. The Mansion at Maple Heights, a bed and breakfast owned and operated in Shadyside by former Steelers lineman Chukky Okobi, has generated a protracted battle with some of the neighbors. Despite legal actions by both sides that have resulted in advances and setbacks over four years, the dispute at its heart is very simple. Mr. Okobi has a large tent on the property that he would like to continue offering for social events. The neighbors insist that the party tent is a source of noise and violates the legal criteria for a permitted business “accessory.” Mr. Okobi maintains that the tent conforms with zoning regulations and the law and is indeed an accessory.

Last month a Commonwealth Court panel ruled against Mr. Okobi and agreed with the neighbors that the tent cannot be considered an accessory “when it is in actuality the principal use.”

Nearby residents say the Mansion at Maple Heights allows events in the tent with loud music in violation of zoning laws and that when police are called the complaints aren’t taken seriously. Mr. Okobi denies that his business is a bad neighbor and blames the opposition on two disgruntled residents who have never met with him.

Mr. Okobi’s attorneys have asked Commonwealth Court to reconsider its decision, but a better use of time, energy and resources in the case would be a mediated effort by both sides to work out a compromise.

The B&B has been successful in maintaining a beautiful property for the neighborhood and serving as a guesthouse for visitors to the city. Its disappearance would be more than a loss to Mr. Okobi; if sold and carved up into apartments not tended by a new owner, it would not serve the interests of the neighbors either.

Cooler heads need to prevail and a neutral community arbiter should step in and broker a friendly, legal accommodation.

By the Editorial Board,
April, 2015


Connie Theron, Practising Attorney - UCT Law Clinic
“While working at the University of Stellenbosch Legal Aid Clinic and later at the UCT Law Clinic, I found the pro bono mediation services of Gerrie van der Watt of the Mediation Centre to be highly professional and extremely effective in our divorce matters. It is fantastic that our clients, with little or no financial means, can benefit from such an excellent programme.

The mediators are able to provide a non-threatening environment in which the clients are able to talk openly about issues that matter most to them, but which the Court in a divorce matter may choose not to entertain. Through the mediation sessions, the clients are able to reach an agreement together which ultimately they are both happy with. In cases where mediation did not yield the result of a settlement, the process was still extremely valuable, giving the parties better perspective and highlighting the key issues in dispute.”