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Leechburg considers changes to restrictions in historical district

| Tuesday, June 3, 2014, 7:09 a.m.

Proposed changes to Leechburg's zoning ordinance could give businesses in the borough's historical district more leeway during construction projects.

Council will decide in the coming weeks how it will amend a portion of the ordinance that pertains to the borough's historic preservation overlay district. Issues concerning the enforceability of some of its provisions were among the chief concerns expressed by residents and officials during Monday's hearing on the proposed amendments.

The borough implemented the historical district in the zoning ordinance in 2012. According to planning commission chairwoman Mary Beth Girardi, it was designed to establish an attractive commercial district that preserves some of its historic architectural elements.

The district overlay runs along Main Street from First to Third streets and from Market Street to the side of Main Street closest to the Kiski River. It extends to cover some parts of Hicks Street and all of the plaza where Sprankle's Neighborhood Market is located. Most of the overlay is drawn over areas that are zoned for commercial business development or business/residential.

Under the ordinance, any construction in the district “shall be compatible in detail, style and scale to the historic character of Leechburg.” All signs must be externally illuminated — barring any digital or neon signage — and only non-toxic, low volatile organic paints can be used on the exterior of structures.

Lee Schumaker, Leechburg's zoning enforcement officer, said the provisions are unenforceable. Some historical district businesses, such as the Sunoco gas station on Market Street, would be unable to comply with the ordinance for any renovation or expansion projects, he said.

“There's no way a commercial structure like that could uphold the appearance of an 19th or early 20th century structure,” he said. “It's just not going to happen.”

Leechburg Solicitor Jim Favero said the historical district's inclusion in the ordinance could leave the borough vulnerable to a potential lawsuit for selective enforcement.

“An ordinance is a law,” he said. “It's not a suggestion, it's a law. You can't say these business are exempt from certain parts of the ordinance and others are not.”

Monday's hearing initially was scheduled to discuss a proposal to make participation in the historical district's guidelines optional. Noting a subsequent section in the ordinance that calls for equal enforcement over all of its sections, Councilman Christian Vaccaro recommended that the historical district be removed entirely from zoning and enacted through a separate ordinance.

Council President Tony Defillippi said council will discuss the matter during their agenda meeting this month and could have a solution prepared by their voting meeting afterward.

All plans for exterior work still would require planning commission approval if council enacts the historical division through a separate ordinance.

Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or bashe@tribweb.com.

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