Indiana, PA - Indiana County

INDIANA BOROUGH: Development zoning rules in question

by RANDY WELLS on April 17, 2013 11:00 AM

Revise or rescind.

Those could be the options for the future of Indiana’s traditional neighborhood development overlay zone, the controversial ordinance adopted nearly seven years ago with a goal of drawing student tenants from residential neighborhoods and concentrating them in high-density housing complexes close to the Indiana University of Pennsylvania campus.

A TND overlay, permitted under the state’s Municipal Planning Code since 2001, is a flexible zone placed over existing zoning lines to allow for specific development goals. Indiana’s TND overlay hugs the east, north and west sides of the IUP campus, and as the name implies, overlays parts of the borough’s R-2 and R-3 residential zones, commercial zones and university-related zones.

Council two weeks ago placed a moratorium on building projects in the TND zone to allow time for the ordinance to be reviewed to determine if it is meeting its goals. The TND overlay has been back in the spotlight again recently in part because of a proposed student housing project at 931 Oakland Ave. B&L Properties is planning to demolish the large bed-and-breakfast at that location and replace it with a three-story structure that would house 64 students.

Some neighbors are opposing the project, contending it will cause parking congestion and limit access to a private alley at the rear of the property. They also say students will likely walk across neighboring private properties on their way to and from classes.

At the start of council’s monthly work session Tuesday, President Nancy Jones said there were two choices regarding the TND overlay ordinance: Revamp it and keep the parts that are working, or “totally rescind it and be done,” she said.

“It’s valuable,” councilman Kevin Kravetsky said of the ordinance. “It just needs to go back to the drawing board” for modifications.

“Some positive things are happening in the borough because of the overlay zone,” councilman Peter Broad said. One of those positives is that the borough is making money because the new developments will generate more in taxes for the borough than did the buildings they replaced, he said.

“I believe we need high-density housing in close proximity to the campus,” said councilman Ross Bricklemyer. But he added he objects to the feature of the overlay that allows high-density housing to be built in the borough’s R-2 residential zones.

“That’s where we have conflict,” he said.

Another weakness of the ordinance, Bricklemyer said, is that the overlay does not always use streets as delineating boundaries, and in some places cuts through the center of blocks.

“I would be perfectly happy if this thing went away,” said councilman John Hartman, contending that too many variances have been granted to the ordinance. “The reality is it created a spot-zone situation. … The overlay zone has not done what it was designed to do.”

Hartman said the overlay zone needs to be a more confined area, and the ordinance regulating it needs to have an expiration date.

“We do see some problems with the zone,” said Jeff Grim, chairman of the Indiana Borough Planning Commission. “Generally, the planning commission is in favor of the overlay zone, but it needs some tweaks.”

A consultant has been hired to assist the planning commission in reviewing the borough’s subdivision and zoning ordinances, he said.

Gary Grindle, of South Sixth Street and a borough resident for 40 years, said “every other house” near his home is up for sale. Council, he said, needs to decide what it wants: Does it want more students to come into the borough or does it want more residents to come in and stay in the borough?

“This overlay is not the answer. You’re not protecting the residents,” Grindle told council.

Jones said after the meeting she anticipates the overlay ordinance will face a rescind-or-revise vote at council’s May 7 meeting. If council chooses to keep the ordinance but update it, it will probably be sent to the planning commission and council’s Community Development Committee for review.

By the end of this week the borough is expected to advertise for a director of its Code Enforcement Department. The successful applicant will succeeded David Kirk, who resigned earlier this spring to accept other employment.

A new job description for the position will have the next director focusing only on code enforcement and not on planning. Those duties are being separated and Jones and borough manager William Sutton said they anticipate the borough will eventually have a planning director apart from the code and zoning director.

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