They say a house is not a home and, in the City of Warren, there are places it can't become one either.
There are currently 15 structures in the city's downtown commercial zoning district that bear a striking resemblance to residences, but currently can't be used as such. Five are on Third Avenue, four are on Pennsylvania Avenue, three are on Market Street and there's one on each of Liberty, Water and Hickory streets.
However, a proposed amendment to the city's zoning ordinance section dealing with the C-1 Central Commercial District could change that.
The city is holding a special hearing on Monday, March 17 on a draft amendment that would change the zoning ordinance to allow single-family dwellings in the C-1 district. Public comment on the measure will be permitted.
Why would someone build something obviously designed as a single-family dwelling in a zoning district that prohibits single family dwellings? They wouldn't.
The structures include places like the Jefferson Tea House and the Sill House, structures that were built as dwellings prior to the zoning designation.
Now, the city is grappling with a case in which a building's owner would like to return one of those structures, specifically the Tybout House on Market Street, to single-family residential use after years of commercial use.
"Basically, we've been following these locations since the Tybout House came up," City Planner David Hildebrandt said at the December meeting of the city's planning commission. "That has had office on the first floor. It has a new owner. The new owner was looking to make the whole thing residential."
In response, the city has drafted an amendment to its planning ordinance that would allow buildings originally intended as a single-family residence to be used as such without any sort of variance or exception approval.
According to the draft of the amendment, "The city recognizes that it is appropriate to allow buildings in the C-1 Central Commercial District which were originally constructed for residential use to revert to single family residential use."
It would add, under the zoning ordinance's permitted uses for the C-1 district, "Buildings originally constructed for residential use may revert to single-family residential use."
That handles structures originally built to serve as homes, but what happens with new construction, including that which takes place after a fire or other disaster?
Under the current ordinance, new construction of single-family dwellings in the commercial district is not permitted.
The draft amendment has that covered, too, but it would take special approval.
According to the draft amendment, "The city also recognizes that it is appropriate to allow construction of new single-family detached dwellings as a 'special exception' within the C-1, Central Commercial District."
The proposed amendment adds under uses permitted in the district by special exception, "single-family detached dwelling (new construction)."
New construction of single-family homes, therefore, would still require special approval from the city. That special approval extends to rebuilding at the location of current structures originally built as a single-family dwelling should they burn down or be demolished.
The public hearing will be held at 7:30 p.m. March 17 in council chambers at the City of Warren Municipal Building on Third Avenue.
A draft copy of the proposed amendment can be viewed weekdays, between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. at the municipal building, or on the city's website, www.cityofwarrenpa.gov.