Ligonier Township planners begin review of revised ordinance
The Ligonier Township Planning Commission took one of the first steps in the 4-month process of revamping the comprehensive development ordinance, as it began its review of zoning ordinance term definitions.
“The reason we started here is that I think it’s one of the most important parts of the ordinance because improperly done, vague or insufficient definitions are one of the primary causes of legal issues down the road,” said solicitor Michael Korns, who worked on the draft.
The comprehensive development ordinance covers several subcategories, such as subdivisions and zoning. Korns said it is a bit unusual to have such a combination, and he said the newly drafted ordinance spefically deals with zoning.
Interim zoning officer and township manager Terry Carcella said the township is looking at finishing the ordinance over the winter because development will come to a halt while the ordinance is being revised. He said he wants to complete it before April 2015.
“We have the ordinance written already, but we want to correct it and mold it to what you are looking for,” Carcella said to the board, asking them for their thoughts and opinions. “You have a very important role here to play.”
Carcella emphasized that there are corrections that need to be made to the existing ordinance, citing current litigation and potential litigation.
“I’m not a native here,” Carcella said. “I’ve only been here three months, but I do know we have to make major changes to this and we have to make them now.”
Carcella and Korns implored the board to review the drafted terms and definitions, as they and the supervisors are looking for their input and recommendations.
The terms describe the types of activities that would generally be permitted by the ordinance and what they mean, Korns said, such as a banquet facility and commercial bank.
Korns said it’s important to define as many terms as possible and in as clear a manner as possible so that the public knows what they are and are not permitted to do in the township.
The township is required by law to provide a place for every use, Korns said, even activities the board might not want to see in the township. Lacking a definition opens the township up to a challenge.
“If we do not provide any definition of that term, we open ourselves up for risk where it can be put right next to you,” he said. “By actually defining them, providing a reasonable location for them, we can then actually restrict them from other areas of the township.”
“In zoning, it’s important to zone for it and deal with it rather than just ignore it,” he said.
Korns highlighted some definitions, such as minerals. He said he pulled the definition directly from the state municipalities planning code to comply with the state and avoid running into any issues.
When board member Mark Spitzer asked about how gas drilling will be represented in the ordinance, Carcella said gas drilling as well as other natural resource topics will be contained in a “resource extraction” section which will provide very specific regulations.
Korns cautioned the board that excluding a large portion of the township from natural resource extraction could subject the township to a taking, in which property owners could seek compensation from the township.
Korns plans to add definitions regarding cell phone towers and telecommunications. He said at this time there is not a definition for agritourism.
Carcella said changes will be made in an effort to make as many nonconforming uses into conforming uses as possible. He said zoning districts and densities may change, adding that he would rather have parcel-specific zoning instead of parcels crossing into multiple districts.
Rick Truscello, planning services manager from The EADS Group, also attended the meeting to provide insight on the process of crafting the new ordinance. He said some communities under-emphasize the community development objectives listed at the beginning of ordinances.
“They’re very important because they give a policy framework and also, in case any kinds of questions or legal challenges arise, it’s always good to have a foundation to fall back on,” he said.
Carcella envisions allowing for growth while preserving the rural integrity of the township through the ordinance.
Next month, the board will likely review the rest of the drafted ordinance. The public will have the opportunity to weigh in on the ordinance and zoning map drafts before anything is passed via public hearings, Korns said. Additionally, other neighboring municipalities and county planners will get to review it.
The next meeting will be held 7:30 p.m. Dec. 16.
Nicole Chynoweth is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2862 or [email protected].