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Sewickley Council approves rezoning request despite spot zoning worry

Bobby Cherry
| Wednesday, July 23, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Sewickley Council rezoned one parcel of property along Waterworks Road, despite the borough's planning commission's concern that the move could be spot zoning.

Council voted 6-2, with members Stan Ference and James Morrill voting no. Carole Ford was absent.

Ference and Morrill sided with a planning commission vote earlier this month against recommending the zoning change from open space.

“Having been the council representative to planning … Planning is very conscious of how they are perceived by council and what their role is,” Ference said.

“I would encourage council to support planning. These are reasons why we have a planning commission.”

Sewickley Heights resident James Rock in February bought 13.6 acres of Waterworks Park in Sewickley for $350,000.

Rock, whose property in Sewickley Heights borders the Sewickley land, said he plans to sell nine acres to Sewickley-based nonprofit Allegheny Land Trust for preservation and park land.

He intends to keep the remaining four acres in Sewickley.

Rock said he and his wife have considered building a home on the four acres they plan to keep.

“If or when we or our children or offspring decide to build a home, that's great,” he said, adding there are no immediate plans.

“The reason we purchased the property was to prevent any wide-scale development.

“We were very concerned once we moved there and had heard word that the property had been up for sale, that we could end up with a housing development or something significant next door.”

If Rock builds on the land, connections to sewer and water lines and other utilities would be needed.

Morrill said planning commission members had “valid” reasons for denying the recommendation.

Commission member Tom Rostek previously outlined four concerns: He said rezoning would be “inconsistent” with a plan outlined with Aleppo and Glen Osborne, and a new R-1, residential designation would “create a zone that will not resemble any other land use in the area.”

Also, the four acres would be surrounded by the Sewickley Heights border and an open space zone for Waterworks Park. Rostek said he thinks the zoning for abutting property in Sewickley Heights differs from that in Sewickley, noting that acreage and sizes are different specifications.

And Rostek said rezoning the property would “undermine any appropriate and organized planning effort that we have in this Waterworks area (and) that this is a reaction-type response.”

Council member Charlie Driscoll said council should make its own decision.

“Yes, there was a vote. There were two very significant ‘no' votes,” Driscoll said, noting that planning commission member Erica Kagle and Chairman Paul Pigman voted no.

The Waterworks property matter isn't the first time Sewickley leaders have faced a spot zoning claim.

In 2010, Sewickley resident Michael Lyons filed a lawsuit against Sewickley and the zoning hearing board to fight rezoning that would enable office space and homes to be built at the former site of the Sewickley Country Inn.

Sewickley officials rezoned the land after a developer presented plans to demolish the hotel's several buildings and replace them with office buildings along Route 65 and town homes along Thorn Street. The borough has spent more than $62,000 in legal fees since Lyons sued.

Bobby Cherry is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-324-1408 or

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