Indiana, PA - Indiana County

CANDIDATE: Richard Thorell

by RANDY WELLS rwells@indianagazette.net on October 29, 2013 10:00 AM

Richard Thorell is one of Indiana’s council members with the longest tenure of service. He’s completing his eighth year as a councilman, and for a decade before that he chaired the borough’s Zoning Hearing Board.

“It’s given me a community development perspective on council,” he said of his years interpreting the borough’s zoning ordinances while on the ZHB.

He now chairs council’s Community Development Committee and previously served on the Administration and Public Works committees.

“My motivation for being willing to serve was simply a community service philosophy,” he said. He’s retired after 36 years on the IUP Music Department faculty and has time, he said, to give back to the community.

“I enjoy what I’m doing” on council, which is trying to strengthen the borough’s residential neighborhoods, he said.

An attempt was made several years ago to rezone the neighborhood around his home at School and South 11th streets on the edge of the IUP campus from R-1 to some other zoning designation that would have permitted student rentals to be located there. Thorell said council needs to be more focused on helping residents be secure in the residential zones and “not rezone their homes out from under them.”

“Being a property owner and a resident trying to stay in the borough in the face of the encroaching student population” is valuable experience he brings to council debates, he said.

Another way to strengthen the residential neighborhoods, he said, is for council to do whatever it can to maintain community schools in the borough. Many people chose to live in Indiana because their children could walk to nearby schools, he said.

Thorell voted in July to repeal Indiana’s traditional neighborhood development overlay ordinance. The TND zone was a “gigantic failure” for some borough residents, he said, because it allowed high-density student housing projects to be built in some residential areas.

“I don’t think there’s been an overlay project that has been satisfying,” he said.

“The (student housing) boom is over” and the demographic projection is that student enrollment will be on the decline through the decade, he said. That’s another reason, in his opinion, why council should be able to resume a regular schedule of infrastructure updates — repairing and rebuilding sewers, streets and curbs, burying overhead utility lines and restoring the canopy of street trees.

Thorell said he supports keeping the Indiana Free Library in the borough-owned Community Center Building and favors not a rehabilitation of the aging structure but a total restoration of the building’s exterior. Spending more money initially and returning the building to the appearance it had when it was new will create a sense of pride in the century-old building among Indiana’s residents, and in the long run will be more cost-effective than quick fixes that will just keep the building in use another 15 years.

Thorell said he and council President Nancy Jones are combining some of their re-election campaign efforts.

“I have served with Nancy Jones on council, have enjoyed doing so and hope that will continue after the first of the year,” he said.

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