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California unveils plan to put curbs on building boom

| Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Downtown California has a problem most communities would love to have, Councilman Patsy Alfano admits.

Growth came at a pace too quick even for borough planners.

“We've had such a building boom in past few years that things have gotten out of control,” Alfano said. “People are putting up any styles, colors and not meshing with neighboring businesses.”

Thus California is about to embark on a master plan. Recently, the borough contracted with the firm of MacLachlan, Cornelius & Filoni to conduct that plan.

“California native Albert Filoni is a world renowned architect,” Alfano said. “We're lucky to get him.

“They're going to look at downtown area, giving us a template for any future building that will take place for possible new facades.”

The $30,000 study will examine an area of the downtown stretching from Mechanics to Green streets and from Second to Fourth streets.

The study will begin in February and take roughly three months to complete. It will involve some design concepts. Several meetings will be held with council, zoning officials and public during the process.

“This plan will give us some direction for the future,” Alfano said.

He said the suggestions made in the plan will serve as a blueprint for future build design and streetscape projects.

Alfano acknowledged that the study is symbolic of recent growth in California.

“We've had a building boom in the past four to five years,” he said. “We got caught behind the eight ball.”

Alfano credited much of that growth to increased enrollment at California University of Pennsylvania. There is now a coffee shop with a drive-through and about a dozen new off-campus town houses, he noted.

“Several investors are courting us now to do some more building in downtown, raze some old and build new — a combination of retail/commercial and residential,” Alfano said.

California is one of the few communities in the region experiencing such growth, Alfano said.

He said the growth took place at a period of some uneasy transition in the zoning office.

“The former council got rid of key people, and the contractor couldn't get it done for us so had to bring it under control,” Alfano said.

Bruce Large, longtime zoning officer, was let go in January 2010, and council at the time hired contractor HMT and Associates. But recently, the current council brought code enforcement services in house, hiring Shannon Kratzer as code enforcement officer, John Petro as assistant code enforcement officer and Lori Clancey as administrative assistant.

“The commercial district is what it is,” Alfano said. “The zoning changes will be what they tell us.”

Alfano said the study, which is being funded by an LSA grant, will project a master plan for the next 20 years.

“We will go after those types of businesses which will improve the look of town and improve the tax base,” Alfano said. “We're not opposed at this time to looking at some ways that we can offer incentives for businesses to come in. We'd like to talk to them.”

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or cbuckley@tribweb.com.

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