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Panel recommends rezoning for former school building

Planning To Improve

Times Observer photo by Josh Cotton The Warren County Planning Commission has recommended approval of a rezoning request for the former Allegheny Valley Elementary School, now owned by Clarendon Borough. The request now goes to the county commissioners for consideration.

The Warren County Planning Commission has recommended the approval of a zoning change request for the former Allegheny Valley Elementary School in Clarendon that could lead to its transformation into part community center and part transitional housing for homeless veterans.

The procedural change would take the parcel from its current zoning as residential to business transitional.

But the change is one part of a much larger vision for the facility, which is now in the hands of Clarendon Borough.

Clarendon Mayor Tom Eaton said the borough offices are in the process of moving across the street into the facility and that plans are for the Clarendon voting precinct to set up there, as well.

“(The) school is laid out really well for what we want to do,” he told the commission, highlighting its handicapped accessibility, cafeteria, gym and office space as well as 16 classrooms. “(We are) looking at making that a homeless shelter for veterans, transitional, not emergency.”

What is transitional housing? Eaton said this would cover veterans who were homeless when they entered a VA Hospital — Pittsburgh, Erie or Buffalo, for example — and need a place to stay when discharged. He said the VA will pay for these individuals to stay in transitional housing for up to two years.

According to the VA, these spaces offer programs and services that “help homeless veterans find stable housing, gain skills to increase their income and achieve independence.”

“Whatever it takes to get them back” in society, Eaton said.

“(It) kinda looks like it’s going to work out very well,” he explained, noting that architectural drawings show space for 32 on the second floor. They view 50 to 55 as the maximum capacity, Eaton explained, noting that the facility would have community shower and dining facilities.

Zoning Officer Michael Lyon said the parcel is between 13 and 19 acres in size and surrounded by residentially-zoned parcels. He said there is some business and business transitional in the area.

Commission member Jeff Zariczny said it would be important to speak to the neighboring property owners about this proposal. He said the specific zoning request is “going to be spot zoning to some degree,” a phenomenon when a zoning designation doesn’t match what surrounds a given parcel.

County Planner Dan Glotz said he was thinking that too but said the “uses are extremely limited” for the property and noted that the business transitional designation “is an opportunity for hearings for the public to voice concerns about any proposed uses.”

Eaton suggested he can see a grand opening in two years.

Discussion about possible R-2 residential versus business transitional painted a picture that a mixed-use former school building doesn’t fit neatly anywhere in the county’s zoning ordinance.

The Commission ultimately approved a motion to recommend a change to business transitional.

Glotz said the proposal will proceed to the county commissioners where a public hearing will be held and all property owners within 300 feet of the parcel will be notified.

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