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INDIANA BOROUGH: Council scraps controversial zoning overlay

by on July 03, 2013 11:00 AM

An hour after listening to more Indiana Borough homeowners describe how the traditional neighborhood development overlay ordinance ruined their property values and made it nearly impossible for them to sell their homes, Indiana council on a split vote Tuesday evening repealed the seven-year-old ordinance.

The vote ends what had become a controversial practice of trying to entice Indiana University of Pennsylvania students to move from rental properties scattered throughout the borough’s residential neighborhoods and relocating and congregating the students in new high-density housing units built closer to the IUP campus. Part of the problem, according to some council members, was that the TND overlay ordinance allowed high-density structures to be built in some R-2 Residential Zones near the campus, triggering conflicts between the dozens of students living in the new structures and their neighbors who often have been families who want to continue enjoying an otherwise traditional residential setting.

A TND overlay is a flexible zone placed over existing zoning lines to allow for specific development goals.

“It (the TND overlay ordinance) has destroyed our property values” and made it impossible to sell nearby homes, said Dr. Mary Micco, of 225 South Carpenter Ave. Her home is in the block behind the former Roger Reschini home along School Street that was razed and replaced by a large high-density student housing complex built under TND guidelines.

Micco urged council to rezone her block as U-1 (university-related), a move that might help her and her neighbors sell their homes to developers who could create “up-scale university services” such as ice cream shops, a beauty salon and doctors’ offices.

“I don’t want to see Indiana turn that block into a slum,” Micco said.

Margaret Kaufman told council she’ll never be able to sell her house at 636 Wayne Ave. — near another high-density student housing complex — even if she wanted to.

“It seems the overlay exists mainly for the large developers,” said property owner George Stewart, who described the overlay guidelines as “short-sighted destructive concepts.”

Thomas Kauffman, who owns property along South Carpenter Avenue, told council the construction of high-density student housing units in the R-2 zones has created a model that shows what will happen if more are built.

“There’s an exodus (by the neighbors),” Kauffman said. “They leave, or want to leave, if they can sell their house.”

Some in the borough, however, in the past few months have contended the overlay ordinance is working, that it is slowly restoring the integrity and character of the borough’s traditional residential neighborhoods by drawing students to the high-density complexes closer to campus.

The TND ordinance and overlay zone was repealed on an 8-3 vote.

Voting to rescind the ordinance were John Petrosky, Tom Thompson, Ross Bricklemyer, John Hartman, Robert Jobe, Nancy Jones, Kevin Kravetsky and Larry DeChurch, who was sworn in as a new council member earlier Tuesday evening.

Opposing the repeal were Richard Thorell, Julie Adcock and Peter Broad.

Councilman Tom Shively, whose resignation was accepted earlier in the meeting, was absent.

Council in April placed a moratorium on all future TND overlay construction projects to give a committee time to review the ordinance and determine if it was achieving its goals. After the meeting, council President Jones said that evaluation will continue and some of the “good parts” of the TND overlay plan may be included in the borough’s zoning ordinance.

The moratorium left Gary Robbins, who owns property at Oakland Avenue and 13th Street, in limbo.

Robbins told council Tuesday he had approvals to build a student housing complex for 42 tenants under TND guidelines at that location before the moratorium was enacted, but he was asked to delay his plans by FD Stonewater, a Virginia-based developer and builder.

Robbins said Stonewater proposed buying Robbins’ property, another property and the site of the Elks Club, and building in their place a complex that would accommodate 250 tenants and a CVS pharmacy. Stonewater would build a new home for the Elks at another location as part of the plan, and the developers were awaiting approval from the Elks’ Grand Lodge, according to Robbins.

After the ordinance was repealed, Robbins said the housing project at Oakland Avenue and 13th Street may still move forward, but may require some revisions and variances.

Council Tuesday also adopted an ordinance aimed at preventing homes in the borough from being bought and demolished to build parking lots for housing units located elsewhere.

Under the ordinance, a parking lot that is not on the same property as the housing project must be on a contiguous property in the same zone, and cannot be separated from the main property even by a street or alley.



Randy Wells has been a reporter and staff writer at The Indiana Gazette since 1988. His regular assignments include coverage of the Indiana County commissioners, Indiana Borough council and the Marion Center Area School District. His email address is rwells@indianagazette.net.
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