Hearing set for proposed Penn Township zoning changes

| Wednesday, May 14, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Penn Township residents will have their chance to comment on proposed changes to the township's zoning ordinance and map.

Commissioners will have a public hearing Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the municipal building.

In the first proposed revision to the map and ordinance in nearly 20 years, township officials intend to reduce the number of zoning districts to five from the nine now in existence. The proposed new designations are “rural residential,” “mixed-density residential,” “neighborhood commercial,” “commercial corridor” and “industrial.”

Township officials have said they think the proposed changes would be less restrictive for development. Dallas Leonard, the community-development director, said officials welcome comments from residents.

“It's a public hearing, and we expect input,” he said.

Under the proposed changes, oil and natural gas extraction would be permitted in all five of the zoning districts, though some conditions would apply. Commissioners have shelved a draft of a separate drilling ordinance.

Drilling might come up during the hearing next week.

Bow and Arrow Land Co., an oil- and gas-rights company that is a subsidiary of Monroeville-based Huntley & Huntley Inc., paid $1.2 million for 219.2 acres in Penn Township, near Pleasant Valley Park in Murrysville, according to a deed recorded in March.

Commissioners in neighboring North Huntingdon voted 5-2 in February to give Huntley & Huntley exclusive rights to drill in Braddock's Trail and Oak Hollow parks for 10 years.

Leonard said the previous property owner of the Penn Township land had a coal-extraction permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection, but the township has not received any other information about development there.

A Huntley & Huntley official did not respond to a call seeking comment.

Penn Township resident Marian Szmyd said she is worried about the township's consideration of a zoning-ordinance update that makes drilling a permitted use throughout the municipality. She said Marcellus shale drilling scares her because she relies on well water.

“I understand we need gas, but we have to protect the people,” Szmyd said. “(Government officials) can't do (things) willy-nilly like they did with the coal industry.”

Staff Writer Daveen Rae Kurutz contributed to this story.

Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8671, or cforeman@tribweb.com.

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