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Supervisors will hear by-right zoning question on Jan. 11

Four of Westmoreland’s five Planning Commission members met this Monday and delivered a unanimous vote recommending that the Board of Supervisors eliminate a set of by-right land use activities the commissioners believe may be incompatible with residential land use activity.
The Board of Supervisors public hearing and possible action has been scheduled for Monday, Jan. 11, despite the recently published public notice indicating that the hearing and vote would occur next Monday night.

A motion Supervisor Lynn Brownley delivered earlier this year initially would have tasked the commission with reviewing the zoning ordinance’s permitted by-right land use activities on properties carrying an Agricultural, A-1 zoning designation.
A subsequent construction of Brownley’s motion expanded the Planning Commission tasking to include the consideration of by-right land use activities in every zoning category.
Due to the enormity of the assignment, the commission divided its effort into two segments. The initial review was limited to the zoning districts where residential development has traditionally occurred.
The final review will involve by-right uses in the ordinance’s business and industrial districts. The Planning Commission will initiate its evaluation when it meets on Jan. 4.
Brownley attended the Dec. 7 Planning Commission meeting and delivered comments during the session’s public comment segment.
“I appreciate the work you’re doing,” Brownley told the commissioners. “What you engaged in is actually much broader than what I proposed.
“Back in June I made the statement that technical and vocational schools shouldn’t be permitted by-right. The O’Gara experience only brings to light the reasoning for arriving at that conclusion.
“I got three votes from the Board of Supervisors to have a look at the by-right permitting of vocational or technical schools. When very incompatible land uses are put together [in close proximity to one another], the county should be in a position to impose limitations.”
Brownley, a former county attorney, then said, “You very expeditiously took on a great variety of by-right uses to review. I thank you for what you’re doing. I greatly appreciate your taking it up and moving with it so quickly.”
The changes the commissioners recommended that the supervisors adopt would eliminate potentially incompatible by-right land use activities and require instead the board’s approval of special exception requests.
Special exception applications result in advertised public hearings. Private citizens are accorded an opportunity to weigh in and, as Brownley noted, the county is accorded an opportunity to attach conditions to the proposed land use activity in order to minimize unwanted impacts.
The by-right land use activities that would subsequently require special exception approval by the Board of Supervisors include schools, bed and breakfast establishments, churches and cemeteries, family day care homes, research and development labs, libraries, private marinas, museums, parks, playgrounds and private recreational areas in the respective agricultural and residential zoning districts.
Early in the Dec. 7 session, Commission Chairman Rob McDermott articulated his own concern that a chemical laboratory could establish itself in close proximity to his own residence.
“Until now research and development facilities could establish themselves by right on anyone’s property. That sounds pretty scary to me. For that reason I plan to attend the Board of Supervisors meeting.”
The commission expects to take many months to review the by-right land use activities in the zoning ordinance’s business and industrial districts.
“The next part of our review will take a lot more work,” McDermott said. He reminded citizens and commission colleagues that the review was initially divided into two separate units in order to appropriately focus on the more difficult component.
The county’s old zoning designations were carried over when new zoning districts were created several years ago. As a result, inconsistencies exist in the descriptive language associated with many of the ordinance’s old and new land use activities.
The Land Use Office staff was tasked several months ago with reorganization of the ordinance’s listing of land use activities. On Monday, McDermott expressed hope that staff will complete its work in time for the commission’s Jan. 4 review of by-right land use activity in industrial and business zoning districts.
“The new matrix will group related land use activities rather than presenting everything in alphabetical order,” he explained. “Everything will be much easier to process.”
Betsy Ficklin
The Journal

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