INDIANA BOROUGH: Councilman resigns amid zoning concerns
William Simmons, an Indiana Borough councilman for eight years who was serving as council’s vice president, resigned Tuesday, partly because of disagreements with some of his council colleagues over the borough’s controversial traditional neighborhood development overlay zone ordinance.
An effort was made during Tuesday’s council meeting to rescind the TND overlay ordinance, but that was tabled to give council and the borough’s planning commission time to review the ordinance.
Simmons, a representative from the Second Ward, was absent from Tuesday’s meeting, but said following the meeting he decided to resign because council is “going in a different direction and there’s no turning it around.”
Simmons was discouraged when council last month voted to place a moratorium on future TND overlay projects while the ordinance is reviewed rather than giving the Community Development Committee, which he chaired, an opportunity to review the ordinance without a moratorium.
“That was just one piece of it,” Simmons said of his decision to step down. “There wasn’t enough support for the things I believed in.”
A TND overlay is a flexible zone placed over existing zoning lines to allow for specific development goals. Indiana’s TND overlay was enacted to encourage developers to build high-density student housing near the IUP campus and draw student tenants away from the borough’s traditional residential neighborhoods.
Council President Nancy Jones appointed councilman Richard Thorell as the new chairman of the Community Development Committee, and councilman Ross Bricklemyer was elected the new council vice president.
Jones asked the Second Ward’s remaining representatives, councilmen Tom Shively and Robert Jobe, to bring to council the names of one or two nominees to fill remaining the 2½ years in Simmons’ term. To be eligible, a nominee must have lived in the borough at least one year and must now be a Second Ward resident.
Second Ward residents wanting to fill the vacancy should send a letter of interest to Jobe, Shively or borough manager William Sutton.
It was councilman John Hartman who unexpectedly made a motion to rescind the TND overlay ordinance and put what he called the good aspects of the TND overlay into the borough’s zoning ordinance. Any TND projects already in the pipeline would be allowed to continue to completion under his motion, he said.
“It hasn’t worked well,” Hartman said of the TND overlay, adding that the good intention when it was adopted was to have developers tear down “ugly properties” and put up nice ones.
“It’s failed … and people are living with the nightmare of what’s happening beside them,” he said. “Our zoning ordinances are draconian. … It’s time to update the zoning ordinances.”
Thorell said he agreed with 85 percent of Hartman’s comments, but also said that suddenly rescinding the ordinance would eliminate the planning commission’s opportunity to first evaluate the ordinance.
“(Some) things have obviously not been done properly” with the TND, said councilman Peter Broad, but he added he thinks the overall goal of the ordinance is sound.
“I see the good of getting rid of it,” said Jones, adding that she first ran for a seat on council to oppose the TND overlay concept. Her home is located in the zone.
“There’s more in my neighborhood that is not working” with the TND, she said. There are “pockets of houses now” where residential owners “don’t have a prayer for their houses” because they are adjacent to or surrounded by student rentals.
“It’s a nightmare for us living in the overlay zone,” she said. “I don’t see it working.”
Bricklemyer said the overlay zone has attributes, but a weakness is that it is an overlay and not a specific zone. And TND student rental developments are permitted in the R-2 Residential Zone and “there are a lot of family dwellings there,” he said.
Susan McClure, a former chairwoman of the borough’s planning commission, said council should keep the TND overlay in place because the borough’s residential neighborhoods are coming back — slowly.
And a strength of the TND overlay ordinance, she said, is that it has design standards and guidelines that builders must follow.
“Developers cannot build barracks,” she said.
“Is the overlay working? Yes,” McClure said. “Have some homeowners taken hits? Probably.”
Councilman John Petrosky said it would be a mistake to suddenly rescind the TND overlay ordinance.
“Let the process go for a couple months” under the moratorium while the ordinance is reviewed, he suggested.
A motion to table Hartman’s effort to rescind the ordinance passed, with Hartman and Jobe opposing the tabling.
During the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting, residents again voiced concerns about the TND overlay in general and specifically about a new student rental project planned by B&L Properties at the site of a bed-and-breakfast at 931 Oakland Ave.
Deborah Ames, who lives adjacent to the site of the planned B&L project, said “guidelines (for building structures under the TND overlay) are not being met.”
Her husband, Larry Smith, invited all council members to personally inspect the planned building site and his property before voting to allow the B&L project to go forward.
Chere Winnek-Shawer told council that when she and her husband moved into their home at 229 S. Seventh St., they were surrounded by houses occupied by IUP faculty members and their families. Now her home is in the middle of three blocks of buildings used as student housing. Residents who live in the middle of dense student populations are in an “untenable situation,” she said.
Gary Robbins told council he was dismayed when he learned of council’s decision last month to place a moratorium on TND overlay projects.
Robbins said he has the clearances needed to start building a new TND overlay student housing project at Oakland Avenue and 13th Street, but is holding off on starting construction because the CVS pharmacy chain had expressed interest in his property there as a possible site for one of its new pharmacy stores.
It doesn’t make sense not to lift the moratorium, Robbins said, because projects like his will bring additional tax revenue to the borough, county and Indiana Area School District.
“It’s not a moratorium indefinitely,” Jones told him.