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INDIANA BOROUGH: Development overlay under review for repeal

by RANDY WELLS on May 22, 2013 11:00 AM

Indiana Borough council Tuesday voted to advertise an ordinance repealing the borough’s controversial traditional neighborhood development overlay zone and ordinance.

A public hearing is required before council actually votes on whether to repeal the TND overlay. That vote is expected to come at council’s July meeting.

The decision to advertise a possible repeal came during council’s monthly work session — advertised as a regular meeting so that votes could be taken — and attended by four members of the Indiana Borough Planning Commission.

“We’ve come to this issue as a divided council, but there is a deeper unity of good intentions to protect borough residents,” Councilman Richard Thorell said in starting the discussion on the future of the TND.

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 Indiana University of Pennsylvania campus and draw student tenants away from the borough’s traditional residential neighborhoods.

Indiana’s TND overlay stretches across some of the borough’s R-2 Residential Zone, and the TND has come under criticism as some high-density housing units have been built among family homes. Council in April placed a moratorium on any future TND projects to allow time for a committee to review the ordinance and determine if it is meeting its goals.

Some in the borough, however, contend the overlay is working, and is slowly restoring the character of the borough’s traditional residential neighborhoods by drawing students to the high-density complexes close to campus.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Councilwoman Julie Adcock reviewed some of the main areas of contention surrounding the overlay zone in recent months: lack of parking around the new high-density student housing projects; quality-of-life impacts on neighbors living adjacent to the student rentals; and loopholes in design guidelines that developers allegedly took advantage of.

“What needs to come out of this meeting is action,” Adcock said.

Councilman John Hartman’s previous motion to repeal the TND overlay ordinance, which had been tabled, was brought off the table for more discussion.

Hartman again suggested that the “good parts” of the TND ordinance should be saved and put into the borough’s zoning ordinance.

Hartman said residents living in the R-2 Residential Zone should have a right to expect that other buildings in their neighborhood would look similar to their home, and they should not have to worry about a “monstrosity” being built next door.

He said that when the TND overlay went into effect, many residents in the R-2 zone were left unprotected by the borough’s zoning ordinance, and some homeowners became “islands” surrounded by student rental properties.

When the TND overlay ordinance was enacted in the fall of 2006, many current members of council and of the planning commission were not in office.

Kevin Patrick, a member of the planning commission, said there appeared to be no overall vision for the overlay zone. It was not clearly understood and didn’t seem to have continuity in how it would be managed, he said.

Patrick said many of the problems now associated with the TND could be resolved by moving the boundaries of the overlay zone to more appropriate areas, and he added that repealing the TND overlay ordinance would, in his opinion, create a complication.

“It’s not what we want, but we (can) control it (while it’s being modified),” he said.

“There is no control over what’s going on in the overlay zone,” Councilman Ross Bricklemyer said, adding that some borough residents are being “extremely harmed” by the high-density housing projects being built next to their family homes.

Council President Nancy Jones, whose own home is in the overlay zone, has long opposed the TND zone and ordinance.

“We have no sense of security in the R-2 zone. We were victims. … We didn’t ask to be in the overlay zone,” she said. “This is a darn shame, what we’re stuck with.”

If council does not take action to halt the TND, more developers will come in and build more high-density student housing projects next door to family homes in the R-2 zone, she said.

The motion to advertise for the repeal of the TND ordinance passed on a 7-4 vote. Supporting the repeal were Hartman, Jones, Bricklemyer, Robert Jobe, Kevin Kravetsky, Tom Shively and Tom Thompson.

Opposed to the motion to repeal were Thorell, Adcock, John Petrosky and Peter Broad.

The vote was quickly followed by a motion by Broad for council and the planning commission to immediately start a process to revisit the zoning of the area now included in the TND overlay zone. Broad included in his motion that a concrete proposal be ready for council’s action by the end of the year. The motion passed.

Council Tuesday also agreed to advertise an ordinance aimed at preventing homes in the borough from being bought and demolished so that parking lots can be built in their place.

Jones said the proposed ordinance was prompted by the purchase of homes at 757 and 765 Wayne Ave. by the developers of the multi-story Student Recreation/Residence Condominium along South Seventh Street across from the Sheetz convenience store. There is no off-street parking at the condominium site for tenants living there.

That ordinance is also expected to come up for a vote in July.

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