Indiana, PA - Indiana County

INDIANA: Moratorium enacted on housing ordinance

by RANDY WELLS rwells@indianagazette.net on April 03, 2013 11:00 AM

Indiana Borough’s traditional neighborhood development overlay, implemented in the fall of 2006 to draw Indiana University of Pennsylvania students from rental properties in residential neighborhoods and relocate them in new high-density housing units close to campus, is under a moratorium until a committee has time to review the ordinance and determine if it is meeting its goals.

Council, on a split vote Tuesday, approved the moratorium following comments from borough residents who were critical of a planned student housing project in the overlay zone at 931 Oakland Ave.

B&L Properties is proposing to demolish the large gray bed-and-breakfast at that site and replace it with a three-story structure that would accommodate 64 students.

At a recent Indiana Borough Planning Commission meeting, residents voiced concerns about traffic congestion, a lack of parking spaces, blocked access to a narrow private alley at the rear of the lot and a lack of maneuvering room for firefighting equipment if the proposed high-density housing project is built there. At Tuesday’s council meeting, nearby property owner George Stewart, neighbors Deborah Ames and Larry Smith and the Rev. Bob Santos of the nearby Search for Me ministry again raised those issues as well as concerns that the student tenants in the proposed housing project might walk over adjacent properties while commuting to and from classes.

“That creates a liability issue for us,” Santos said. “We think it’s a bad design for this location.”

A TND overlay is a flexible zone placed over existing zoning lines to allow for specific development goals. When Indiana’s overlay was created more than six years ago, it was predicted it would not only congregate IUP students closer to campus and thus help restore the traditional residential character of the borough’s neighborhoods, but at the same time would promote more pedestrian traffic and less vehicle traffic.

As incentives to build new structures in the horseshoe-shaped TND overlay around the IUP campus, developers are allowed to construct buildings that extend closer to the edge of the lot and to pay into an escrow account rather than provide all the off-street parking spaces that normally would be required.

When it was adopted, it was envisioned by some that the TND overlay might spur the development of entire blocks close to campus into high-density housing and retail business to serve students.

“The overlay ordinance has not done everything we wanted it to do. … I don’t think it’s making the town look better,” said John Petrosky, chairman of council’s Administration Committee. He added that some nice properties have been bought and demolished by developers to put up new student housing units.

Petrosky made the motion to place a moratorium on future overlay projects until a committee can review the TND ordinance, evaluate its effectiveness and possibly make revisions.

Councilman Bill Simmons, chairman of the Community Development Committee, moved to table Petrosky’s motion. Simmons said council needs to look at how the overlay has improved things in the borough, not just focus on one project facing opposition.

The TND overlay ordinance was created through many years of work in the Community Development Committee, Simmons said, and he asked that the committee be given time, perhaps three months, to review and tweak the ordinance, if needed.

“Because it takes a long time to develop doesn’t mean it has merit,” said councilman John Hartman, adding that three or four of the projects built in the overlay have been controversial and in his opinion have resulted in the equivalent of spot zoning.

Petrosky again asked for the moratorium, saying he didn’t want more overlay projects to get started in the three months or so while a committee is reviewing the ordinance.

Simmons argued that one fallout of placing a moratorium on overlay projects in the borough will be that developers take their projects, and the tax revenues they would generate, across the border into White Township.

The motion to table the moratorium was defeated 6-2, with Simmons and Peter Broad in favor of tabling and Petrosky, Hartman, Nancy Jones, Kevin Kravetsky, Tom Thompson and Richard Thorell opposing. Ross Bricklemyer abstained and members Julie Adcock, Robert Jobe and Tom Shively were absent.

The motion to impose a moratorium passed on a split voice vote and no roll call vote was taken.

Petrosky said he understands a meeting is to be scheduled between representatives of council, the borough planning commission, borough residents and B&L Properties officials to try and resolve some of the concerns about the proposed housing project along Oakland Avenue.

Council Tuesday presented Ron Lunardini with a certificate of appreciation for his 12 years of service on the planning commission.

While accepting the recognition, Lunardini said the TND overlay was one of the best things to happen in the borough in recent years.

“I would hope you don’t throw the baby out with the bath water,” he told council.

In other action Tuesday, council authorized borough solicitor Wayne Kablack to respond and acknowledge a letter from Thomas Kauffman, solicitor for the Indiana Free Library, in which the library directors requested a 10-year extension of the library lease in the borough-owned Community Center Building. The library’s current lease expires at the end of 2015.

“We are not in a position to grant them an extension,” council President Nancy Jones said. “We are looking for funds. … We need additional time to secure funds” to make substantial repairs to the century-old building, she said.

And following an executive session, council accepted the resignation of Patrolman Michael Rhoades, who has served on the borough police department 9ᄑ years.

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