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Change to Sewickley's Village Overlay weighed

| Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Some nonprofit groups could be welcome in first-floor space in Sewickley's business district if changes proposed by the borough's planning commission are approved.

Planning commission members last week voted, 5-0, to consider permitting 501(c)(3) organizations in first-floor space in the Village Overlay that comprises much of the borough's business district.

Member Marlin Bartos was not present. Stan Ference left the meeting before casting a vote.

A public hearing could be held in March or April, borough Manager Kevin Flannery said. Changes must first be reviewed by Allegheny County officials.

If approved, organizations falling under the nonprofit status would be required to open at least 50 percent of the floor space for the public.

“The intention of the space is an interaction with the public for some cultural purpose,” planning commission member Thomas Rostek said.

“There's an expectation that the public is going to enter this office and interact with those displays and the people in the office with a way you might see in a tourist office. So there is actual work going on, but the work is focused on this cultural interaction with the public.”

The possible changes stem from a proposal in the fall for a property at 611-613 Beaver St. to be removed from the Village Overlay.

Village Green Partners — a group promoting Sewickley's retail district — co-founder Jennifer Markus in August purchased the building under the name Mulberry Street Properties with plans to move the organization's office to the space.

Village Green now occupies space on the third floor of a building within the business district.

Current zoning and planning laws forbid first-floor office space within the borough's Village Overlay.

Markus' property sits along the border of the borough's Village Overlay and C-1 districts, according to a borough zoning map.

Markus in the fall requested the property be removed from the Village Overlay District and into the neighboring C-1 zone. Flannery said property owners can make such requests, but they must be approved by borough leaders.

Planning commission members instead considered adjusting guidelines for what is permitted in the Village Overlay.

Member Sharon Pillar said she was concerned about moving one property from the Village Overlay.

“If we're going to do that, I really think we should look at it very comprehensively,” she said.

Ference, who serves as a borough council representative on planning commission, said council is “very concerned” about “nibbling away” at properties within the Village Overlay.

“So that in 10 years we wake up and say, ‘Hey, how did this happen?'” he said.

“The people on council want to do what's appropriate.”

Bobby Cherry is an associate editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-324-1408 orrcherry@tribweb.com.

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