First-floor office debate in Sewickley rekindled as Village Green co-founder wants to move group
By Bobby Cherry
Published: Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
The co-founder of a nonprofit group whose mission is to promote Sewickley Village's retail corridor wants to remove a building she purchased in the business district to open a first-floor office.
Under the name Mulberry Street Properties, Jennifer Markus — who is the co-founder of Village Green Partners — purchased 611-613 Beaver St. with intentions of relocating the nonprofit group's office to a first-floor space.
Current zoning and planning laws forbid first-floor office space within the borough's Village Overlay District, which comprises much of Sewickley's downtown sector.
“There is no retail on that end of Beaver Street,” Markus said of her property near Straight Street.
Planning commission member Thomas Rostek said he had concerns with considering the proposal.
“I don't think we want to give up our design standards,” Rostek said. Certain design standards are required for properties within the Village Overlay.
But Rostek said those standards could be hindering the borough's growth.
“We're going to get more and more pressure as long as our vacancy rate remains as high as it is,” he said.
“What we need to try to do as the planning commission is to try to make these properties more useful in the Village, but still maintaining this retail district. It seems to me we better look at the Village Overlay definition than just start taking properties out of the Village Overlay.”
Former planning commission member Joan Miles cautioned against removing properties from the Village Overlay.
“The whole point of this is that we're trying to maintain a vibrant, working, retail core,” she said.
“I understand there may be some looking at what the boundaries should be.
“Offices have blinds that pull down, they don't have much window space.”
First-floor offices could “break up the continuity of the retail core,” Miles said. “People just won't walk past. Maybe they'll walk past one office, but if they see a lot of offices, they don't keep going. That really damages the vitality of the retail core.”
But Markus said few properties in that area of town follow Village Overlay District standards.
“That end of town is broken,” she said. “You have the Rite Aid parking lot, the liquor store and you have Crazy Mocha.”
Planning commission members are expected to discuss Markus' application at a December meeting. Members will ask borough architects to submit design standard ideas to consider allowing a mixed concept zone for some portions of the Village Overlay.
Resident Del Miller said borough leaders should look to allow first-floor office space.
“You need to redefine what's bringing people to Sewickley,” he said. “Clearly this is not a retail mecca.”
Bobby Cherry is an associate editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-324-1408 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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