Ligonier council votes to approve YMCA parking lot
The Ligonier Valley YMCA will construct a parking lot along Wellington Alley.
Following a public hearing March 4, Ligonier Borough Council voted 4-2 to grant the YMCA's conditional-use request to build the lot on two parcels where several buildings previously stood.
Council heard testimony from Tom Celli, architect for the YMCA's expansion project, who explained a buffering zone of vegetation will be planted around the lot, and two-way traffic will be routed through Wellington Alley.
Council approved vacating the alley, giving the YMCA the ability to allow such traffic flow.
Attorney Mark Sorice, who represents the YMCA, asked Celli if vacating the alley was necessary to allow access to the parking lot, and Celli agreed.
Celli said there is not space on the YMCA's other parcels to build the lot.
During the public comment period, resident Joe Willard said council could not consider the matter because the buffer zone extends onto a residentially-zoned property, where parking lots are not permitted. Attorney Daniel Hewitt, who represents council, said it could vote on the issue because the buffer zone is not part of the parking lot.
Councilman James B. St. Clair made the motion to approve the parking lot, which was seconded by Matt Smith. They joined Michael Bieterman and Robert Helterbran to vote in favor of the motion, with Judy Hoffer and Jim McDonnell dissenting. Council member Pat Scanlon did not attend the meeting.
Throughout the meeting, McDonnell said he feels rezoning, which played an integral part in the YMCA's parking lot plans, is dangerous.
“I am opposed, have been, will be always opposed to rezoning,” he said. “You have no idea how contagious and how dangerous a disease this can turn into.”
McDonnell made a motion to evaluate what the cost would be for giving up Wellington Alley, and Hoffer cast a positive vote. Bieterman and Smith joined him to approve that motion. Helterbran and St. Clair voted against it.
Hewitt said the alley is not an asset because the borough does not own the property but holds rights to it.
McDonnell then made a motion against vacating the alley, which was seconded by Hoffer. Helterbran, St. Clair, Bieterman and Smith voted against it.
To keep the record clear, St. Clair made a motion to approve vacating the alley. Joining him to approve that plan were Smith, Bieterman and Helterbran. Hoffer and McDonnell voted against the move.
Under questioning from Helterbran, David Byers, system manager of the safety and occupational health department at Excela Health, agreed that the parking lot was necessary for Excela to move into its newly leased space at the YMCA.
Helterbran asked if the lot would be taxable since the leased space will be taxable. Sorice said the property could be determined to be taxable.
By allowing the lot, Helterbran said, the borough would be able to recover some of the tax revenue lost with the removal of the buildings. The YMCA purchased the property in June 2012, and the buildings were demolished in September 2013.
Resident Gay Wasserman said the added parking lot and changes to Wellington Alley could create traffic congestion and adversely affect Ligonier's quaint, charming and historic characteristics.
“I'm not sure these changes will really benefit anyone in the borough besides a few people,” she said. “And the price the borough is paying for these changes can be enormous long term.”
Resident Louise Dean expressed concern about what will happen to the parking lot and expansion after Excela Health's 10-year lease agreement expires.
In addition, council approved an ordinance to abolish the planning commission and establish a planning committee comprised of three council members.
St. Clair, Bieterman, Helterbran and Smith voted in favor of the change, with Hoffer and McDonnell dissenting.
Helterbran said the new planning committee will include St. Clair, Scanlon and Smith. George Welty will serve as solicitor, and former planning commission members Dirk Matson and Patti Campbell will provide additional guidance.
The committee will meet at 7 p.m. on the fourth Monday of each month, Helterbran said. Zoning officer Merle Musick will attend the sessions.
Council's next meeting will be at 7 p.m. March 13.
Nicole Chynoweth is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2862 or firstname.lastname@example.org.