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Leechburg rethinks historic district regulations

| Wednesday, June 18, 2014, 7:34 a.m.

Leechburg Council will vote next month to eliminate the enforcement of additional zoning regulations in the borough's historical district.

The borough will hold a second public hearing on the issue immediately prior to next month's council meeting, where officials are expected to take final action.

The issue has been a topic of discussion for the past several weeks after Lee Schumaker, Leechburg's zoning enforcement officer, questioned the borough's ability to enforce the district's additional regulations.

The district, formally known as the historic preservation overlay district, was first implemented into Leechburg's zoning ordinance in 2012 by the borough planning commission.

According to commission chairwoman Mary Beth Girardi, it's designed to establish an attractive commercial district that preserves some of the borough's historic architectural elements.

Some of the regulations that were added to meet that aim are impractical, Schumaker said, for many of the district's businesses.

For instance, the Sunoco gas station along Main Street, he said, could not reasonably preserve Leechburg's historic architectural elements.

Schumaker added last month, with Solicitor James Favero's agreement, that selective enforcement of the ordinance could bring about a potential lawsuit for the borough.

To avoid any such issues, council is proposing to remove the historic preservation overlay district from the zoning ordinance. Since a subsequent section of the ordinance calls for the equal enforcement of all its provisions, the borough is legally required to enforce the district's regulations while it remains a part of the ordinance.

If that motion passes, council will likely re-ordain the district as a separate document.

That would rid the borough of any requirement to enforce its provisions, while still showing a commitment to beautification, Councilman Christian Vaccaro said.

“That would take the teeth out, with no enforcement mechanism,” Vaccaro said. “It would be voluntarily, and businesses would have an incentive to comply because it makes them eligible for grants from investing agencies like (the Freeport Leechburg Apollo Group).

“Maybe if council has a little more money down the road, it can attach incentives of its own. It's a win-win.”

As it's currently drawn, the district 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 the plaza where Sprankle's Neighborhood Market is located and parts of Hicks Street.

The map of the district will likely be redrawn if it is enacted through its own ordinance, according to Vaccaro. It was unknown on Tuesday what specific changes would be made.

District businesses would still need to comply with the borough's uniform construction code if the historical district is vacated from the zoning ordinance.

Addresses changed

Council on Tuesday changed the addresses of six houses.

Officials voted unanimously to change addresses for five houses in the 200 block of Second Street and one house along Penn Avenue.

Council President Tony Defillippi said the changes were made to bring the addresses into numerical order and make them consistent with the rest of the street.

The addresses were previously out of order and would create confusion in several areas, including emergency response, he said.

“It's just to eliminate that confusion,” he said. “There could've been a problem.”

The borough will notify Armstrong County 911, the Postal Service and the affected residents this week, Favero said.

The residents of one house with a changed address are aggravated with council's decision. Deborah Hilty, whose Second Street address was changed by the vote, is upset that she'll have to buy new checks and update her current residency “everywhere,” she said.

“I think it stinks,” she said upon learning of council's decision.

Her husband, Mark Hilty, took a more optimistic approach.

“I just recently almost bought a big plaque with this address on it,” he said. “That would have been unfortunate.”

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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