City planners split on council zoning changes

The City of Warren’s Planning Commission recommended approval of one change city council made to the city’s new zoning ordinance while rejecting another.

Council on Monday approved the zoning ordinance while striking short-term rental regulations and calling for a review of the new mixed-use residential and commercial district along Market Street.

The planners sided with council on the short-term rental issue but rejected Councilwoman Wendy McCain’s proposals to amend the mixed-use proposal.

Commission member Randy Gustafson said the proposal for short-term rentals was unique among rental regulations.

“(It was) almost a bubble that stuck out,” he said.

“I personally am in favor of removing it in its entirety,” Commission member Elizabeth Raible added. “Short-term rentals are really important and fill an important hole here.”

Commission member Mike Suppa added that it’s hard to regulate short-term rentals without regulations for long-term rentals, as well.

The second issue centered on a new mixed-use district, a combination commercial/residential district that aims to help transition from the downtown into the neighborhoods.

“This area has already become a mixed-use district,” Director of Codes and Planning Randy Rossey said. “Let’s call it what it is.”

McCain raised the challenge to the district at Monday’s council meeting and continued that assault on Wednesday.

“The first thing that concerned me, (the district) expands over to where the East St. School is, a block from my private residence,” she said, raising concern about potential development and traffic implications at that site.

She questioned whether people in the district are aware of how they may be impacted and specifically raised concern about provisions in the ordinance that could allow retail, service and restaurants in the district.

McCain called for those uses to require review by the Zoning Hearing Board.

“We’re not looking to (do) anything but normalize… what’s already occurring there,” Commission member Ray Pring said. “The Jefferson Tea House was there for decades. The college was there.”

Specifically regarding the site of the former East Street School, Pring said that it also used to be the administrative center for the school district.

“There were a lot of cars going in and out of there every single day,” he said. “I don’t think that’s unusual. I was never concerned that whatever takes root there might destroy the way the neighborhood looks. That never occurred to me. I don’t think that’s true.”

Rossey pointed out that design standards included in the ordinance would require any development to blend into the neighborhood.

“Do you want a McDonalds across the street from your house?” McCain asked. “If (someone) put a business across the street from me, I’d be compelled to move.”

Rossey stressed that any development there “would have to fit in.”

McCain then pivoted her attack to the zoning process, calling it convoluted and asking for it to be simpler. She did not offer suggestions on how to do that.

“Zoning is not convoluted,” Rossey said. “It is set up in a very legal aspect to protect property owners…. It’s not really convoluted if you read what’s in (the) district.”

Discussion then shifted to what recommendation the Commission might make to council.

“I’m not willing to change it,” Pring said.

“From a practical standpoint, it can probably stand,” Gustafson added.

“You don’t like the proximity to your personal residence,” Raible said of McCain’s objection.

“It’s personal to me,” McCain said. “Market (Street) has a certain visual integrity. Having control over that visual integrity is… to me important.”

“I’m really thinking there are enough safeguards in what we have to protect that,” Suppa said.

“They’re not obvious,” Gustafson acknowledged, “but they’re there.

A motion to recommend no changes to the mixed-use district was approved unanimously.


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