Rules of the Road

The purpose of this blog is to share with you my thoughts on issues pertaining to Oil City and Venango County and to foster discussion.

However, that requires some basic rules. Personal attacks, inappropriate language and venom-filled postings will not be tolerated. Comments will be screened, and if necessary edited, before posting.

Disagreement and a variety of opinions are encouraged, but I ask that it always be in a respectful, positive manner. So fire away, but do so cleanly

Monday, July 26, 2010

Zoning Discussions

Council has blocked off a half-hour at tonight’s meeting (7-26) to begin some serious discussion on a totally revamped zoning ordinance for the city.

This is a critical issue and of great importance to all residents, whether they know it or not. I personally believe zoning can be a tool to help prevent deterioration of neighborhoods, spur development and ensure the best and highest use of available land and in general create a more viable and pleasant community.

I know not everyone thinks like that.

The re-do of the zoning ordinance has been planned and is being done in conjunction with the multiple-municipal comprehensive plan, although it is a separate project. As such, there has already been some limited public discussion about changes, notably to “up-zoning” several residential areas.

Currently we only have two residential categories: R-1 and R-2.

The R-1 district represents generally the area with the largest lots and newest developments. It is limited to single-family homes. The R-2 district is generally areas with smaller lots and allows for multi-family units.

I for one favor and I think there is consensus to creating additional R-1 districts (A-B etc. based on lot size) to bring several of the current R-2 neighborhoods into the single-family residence category. I believe this will tend to preserve several neighborhoods by making fewer rental units available and in a round-about way support home ownership. It is important to remember that the exhaustive study of county housing said strongly that additional lower-cost rental units are not needed in Oil City and in fact can be detrimental to the overall market.

Furthermore, it makes no sense to me why under our existing zoning categories we encourage transformation of single-family homes into two or more family rental units where the lots are the smallest and the parking issues often the greatest.

Currently we only have one industrial category and do not differentiate between heavy and light industry. The Industrial zones are located in a wide sweep along the river on the West End, East End, Siverly and downstream from Relief Street along Route 8. There is also an industrial zone along Oil Creek and extending along parts of Seneca Street and “inland” to Duncomb.

Much of what is zoned industrial on the southside has great potential for other uses and little industrial development potential. That needs to be changed. Furthermore, I think it would make sense to make the industrial zone in the West End light industrial to better reflect the adjoining property uses and what is actually there now.

I would like to see creation of a special “Waterfront” zoning category that would encourage residential development and recreational businesses, such as restaurants, etc. to best make use of the waterfronts. There needs to be a lot of thought given to what would be appropriate and how to use zoning to preserve viewscapes, etc.

The areas I would place in that “waterfront” zoning category include:
1) Between Route 62 and the river from Pumphouse Road to Veteran’s Bridge.
2) Everything on the river side of Front Street (perhaps North Street) from Petroleum Street to at least Blair Street and then extending on the river side of the old railroad right-of-way to the city line.
3. Colbert Avenue to the river out to the Industrial Park and then upstream of the Industrial Park to the end of Colbert and then all the remaining upstream property within the city.

Perhaps a “waterfront” area overlay for our downtown commercial districts would also be beneficial.

Obviously we need to take a look at the former hospital property, now zoned as residential office to see if the uses prescribed in that zoning category still fit.

Oil City does not have a lot of remaining undeveloped land, but for what we do have I think it would behoove us to explore zoning rules that provide for single-residence and townhouse condominium developments that are of growing popularity.

Council will have a lot to think about and the staff a lot of work as we develop a comprehensive zoning ordinance update. Our residents need to speak up and express their desires and concerns as well, and sooner rather than later.