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Ligonier Council hears testimony about zoning ordinances

| Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Ligonier council passed a motion on Monday to table the Ligonier Valley YMCA's two proposed ordinances until its Oct. 7 meeting.

The YMCA is requesting the following so that it may move forward with its expansion plans:

• To change the zoning on two properties from R-2 — two-family residential to C-2 — general commercial.

• To amend the zoning ordinance to allow surface parking lots as a conditional use in the C-2 — general commercial zoning district subject to the standards for conditional uses already in place.

Council held a public hearing on the two proposed ordinances on Monday at the town hall auditorium, listening to testimony from those both for and against the proposed ordinances.

To begin the hearing, Attorney Daniel Hewitt, who is acting as council's legal counsel in the matter, reminded attendees that testimony was to be limited to comments about the two proposed ordinances.

Attorney Mark Sorice, who is representing the YMCA in the matter, called traffic engineer Richard Kruise, of the EADS Group, as a witness to answer questions regarding a traffic study that was completed to define how intersections surrounding the YMCA would be affected by the expansion, including West Main Street and Fairfield Street, North Market Street and Church Street, North Market Street and Vincent Street, West Church Street and North Fairfield Street, West Vincent Street and Elm Alley, and North Fairfield Street and Wellington Alley. Kruise said overall, the study concluded that the impact would be minimal.

Sorice then called YMCA Chief Executive Officer Ben Wright as a witness, who said he believes if the proposed ordinances are approved by council, the YMCA expansion would have a positive impact on the community by adding health and wellness opportunities, as well as employment opportunities.

Council heard from numerous residents in favor of and opposed to the proposed ordinances.

Those opposed, such as North Fairfield Street residents Karen McCullough and Gay Wasserman, brought up various concerns like the safety of additional traffic, the effect an additional parking lot will have on the atmosphere of the borough and the financial stability of Excela Health, which plans to lease space from the YMCA to share therapy resources and other medical resources.

Michael Busch of Excela Health dispelled one attendee's comment that Frick Hospital might be in danger of being closed and added that Excela Health continues to serve the community.

Sorice reminded attendees and council that the matter at hand did not concern Excela Health's role in the expansion but rather the two proposed ordinances.

Resident Diane Cipa explained how the area in which the YMCA is located was formerly Ramseytown, adding that allowing the YMCA's request would affect John Ramsey's historic street plan, made in 1817. Those in favor of the proposed ordinances, such as YMCA board members Robert Cummings and Jim Sheeder, said the expansion will positively impact the community by providing more employment, business growth and opportunities for its members. Resident Mike Vernon of Westmoreland Financial Services said that despite some belief that a parking lot will negatively affect the value of homes around the YMCA, he feels the addition would not do so.

In his closing statements, Sorice asked council to consider at this time only the two proposed ordinances and the impact they would have on the community.

After an executive session, council voted to table the proposed ordinances and allow the planning commission to consider the testimony and information presented during the hearing at its Sept. 23 meeting and then pass along its findings to council before the Oct. 7 council meeting. Council members Tom Freeman and James St. Clair voted against the motion.

Council will meet at 7 p.m. on Oct. 7.

Nicole Chynoweth is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2862 or