Hempfield could halt process to create zoning ordinance

| Friday, Nov. 23, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Hempfield supervisors will vote Monday on whether to proceed with a new zoning ordinance or abandon the idea entirely.

Township attorney Les Mlakar stressed that the meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. in the municipal building, is not to adopt a new zoning code — only to decide whether the supervisors should continue with the process.

“This is just whether to proceed,” he said.

Mlakar said if the board of supervisors decides to continue, the township will have to schedule another public hearing before voting whether to adopt or reject the code, which has not been updated since the late-1970s.

Some residents expressed concern over restrictions in the proposed law during a hearing in September.

The supervisors decided then to delay any vote on the ordinance until they reviewed citizens' comments.

The proposed law has a political aspect because supervisors Tom Logan and Doug Weimer are up for re-election next year.

The zoning ordinance has been amended a number of times during the past 30 years. But some of its regulations are out of date or do not conform with a Multimunicipal Comprehensive Plan adopted in 2005 and jointly developed by the township, the city of Greensburg and the boroughs of South Greensburg and Southwest Greensburg.

Hempfield created a citizens' task force in 2007 to revamp the law, which was adopted in 1978. A draft of a new code was written, but progress stalled over differences of opinion among supervisors.

Even though the proposed ordinance has not been adopted, its provisions apply as if the code already was law, Mlakar said. Under the pending ordinance rule, once a proposed ordinance has been advertised, its rules can be applied to new zoning applications.

For example, Mlakar said that when the Westmoreland County Housing Authority proposed building residences for senior citizens near its headquarters on Greengate Road, the proposed code was applied to the authority's application.

Residents complained in September that a new code could infringe upon their rights to use their property for commercial enterprises or it could hurt small businesses. Some residents purchased land for commercial ventures only to discover the new code would change its zoning category.

The proposed code would reduce the number of zoning categories to 11, breaking them down into agricultural, rural agricultural, suburban residential, corridor and village residential, neighborhood, local and regional commercial districts, and light, heavy and industrial zones.

The aim of the agricultural district is to preserve farmland, according to the proposed code.

The rural agricultural district would allow residential development in some rural areas. The suburban districts would allow property owners to build houses on smaller lots while keeping the character of existing neighborhoods. The district is designed primarily for single-family and multi-family dwellings.

Corridor districts would permit the construction of duplexes and townhouses. Village residential is aimed at former coal mining areas, such as Bovard or Forbes Road, which existed before zoning requirements were adopted.

The proposed zoning ordinance would establish the size of lots and setback requirements.

Neighborhood zones would establish requirements for shopping areas near residential developments. The new law would apply to grocers, restaurants, retail stores and professional office buildings. It would allow for the creation of direct links from commercial areas to nearby neighborhoods.

Local commercial encompasses business along major highways such as automobile dealerships and restaurants. Regional commercial includes large projects, such as midsize or large retails stores near highways. Light industrial will encompass technology businesses and research facilities while heavy industrial would include truck terminals, warehouse and distribution facilities near major highways or railroads.

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at rgazarik@tribweb.com.

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