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Ligonier borough council approves YMCA development

| Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, 1:07 p.m.

Ligonier Borough council will withdraw the pending appeal of the Ligonier Valley YMCA's deemed approval request and approve its land development application, in an effort “to avoid continuing litigation and expense.”

At council's Feb. 13 meeting, Michael Bieterman made the motion to approve the land development application and squelch the appeal of the YMCA's claim for a deemed approval of its conditional use application for a surface parking lot in its commercially zoned property. It was seconded by James B. St. Clair. President Robert Helterbran and Matt Smith voted in favor of it, while Judy Hoffer and Jim McDonnell dissented.

Council member Pat Scanlon was not present at the meeting.

Bieterman also made a motion to authorize the advertisement of a hearing for the YMCA's newly filed conditional use application for a surface parking lot, which was filed Wednesday. St. Clair seconded it, and Helterbran and Smith voted in favor of it. Hoffer and McDonnell dissented.

YMCA Chief Executive Officer Ben Wright said he is “happy to be moving forward.”

The conditional use hearing, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. March 4, will be followed immediately afterward by a meeting to act on an ordinance abolishing the borough planning commission.

During his personnel and planning commission committee report, St. Clair said he felt it was “in the best interest of council” to establish a planning committee consisting of three council members to carry out the duties and powers set forth in the municipalities planning code, because of the fact that “planning and development of the borough have become a priority matter.” He made a motion to authorize the advertisement of the proposed ordinance and a council meeting to act on the ordinance to dissolve the planning commission at 7 p.m. March 4.

Bieterman seconded the motion, and Helterbran and Smith voted in favor of it. Hoffer and McDonnell dissented.

Helterbran said the matter of abolishing the planning commission is a “tough move,” but council members had thought about it for over a year.

“If everything is coming back to council anyway, we may as well have a committee of council members being the ones to hear the requests,” he said.

St. Clair followed up with a motion to reinstate Merle Musick as zoning officer, replacing Chick Cicconi. Musick was previously voted out of the position in favor of Cicconi during council's January reorganization meeting.

Bieterman seconded the motion, and Helterbran and Smith voted in favor of it. Hoffer and McDonnell dissented.

Cicconi said he did not expect to be removed from the position, but “it certainly came as no surprise,” he said, adding that he is sure Musick will do a good job.

“The zoning official is appointed by borough council and serves at the pleasure and will of that body,” he said. “As council members change, the directions as well as their plans often also change. I was appointed in January by a 4-3 vote which was a good indication of my future zoning work with Ligonier Borough.”

“I've always enjoyed my work with the borough and (I am) confident in the future as we continue to be admired and sometimes even envied as a place to live, work and visit,” he said.

During public comment, residents Louise Dean and Gay Wasserman, who live near the YMCA, expressed disappointment with council's approval of the YMCA's plans and decision to dissolve the planning commission.

“With the new changes...I'm shocked by them,” Dean said. “I'm not happy about them.”

Dean said she worries the Y expansion could not only ruin her and her neighbors' homes, but also the town, citing concerns about the YMCA's plan to route traffic through Wellington Alley.

Wasserman said she continues “to be appalled by the way things are done.”

“I just cannot believe all this continues to go on,” she said. “I hope my property becomes an object lesson for anyone planning to move and spend money in the borough of Ligonier on residential housing. Do it at your own risk because there are no zoning protections, and if you think I'm the only one who is going to be affected by this, you have opened yourselves up to anyone who ever approached the borough for a change in zoning to come back.”

In other business, the board voted unanimously to appoint former borough council and planning commission member Dale Show to the zoning hearing board, filling the vacancy left by Scanlon.

Earlier in the meeting, Hoffer asked Helterbran if he had any update on the questions posed by McDonnell during council's December meeting regarding the legality of votes to accept Kim Shaffer's resignation and reconsider the YMCA's zoning requests. Helterbran said he spoke to Attorney Daniel Hewitt, legal counsel for the borough, who confirmed that the votes were legal.

Additionally Tom Wynkoop, owner of Fox's Pizza on North Market Street, informed council that his plans to relocate his restaurant to a property on the Diamond are on hold, due to financial restraints and moving expenses. At last month's meeting, council had voted 5-1 to approve Wynkoop's application for an occupancy permit to allow him to relocate. He said at this time he does not intend to make the move.

Council will meet at 6:30 p.m. March 4 for the YMCA's conditional use hearing, followed by a meeting to act on the ordinance abolishing the planning commission at 7 p.m.

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

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