By Elizabeth Perry
McKees Rocks Borough council members are reconsidering the zoning code to bring local ordinances in line with established law.
Solicitor Meghan Turnbull described McKees Rocks zoning code as “quite old and piecemealed together.”
“We will look into rebuilding that from the ground up,” Turnbull said, during the borough’s Oct. 3 workshop meeting.
There is often grant money available to municipalities wishing to modernize ordinances. While that complete overhaul would not be happening as of yet, Turnbull said she is taking steps to amend the 1973 zoning ordinance because it is not in line with Pennsylvania law.
“It’s just really mushy language concerning the zoning hearing board. The zoning hearing board can just decide things,” Turnbull said.
“They’re easy to attack because they’re not clear standards.”
Turnbull said the goal of the government was to make “clear administrative standards” to save money and time on the part of people who are trying to go through the process of obtaining variances for building or adapting existing structures in McKees Rocks.
Councilmember Maryann Holland mentioned the recent process Focus on Renewal had to go through to get permission to paint a mural on their building on Chartiers Avenue.
FOR Director Cynthia Haines had to ask permission at four different meetings to receive the go-ahead to begin painting the mural, and Holland said that lengthy process showed everyone how much change was needed.
“That was ridiculous what (Haines) went through,” Holland said.
Turnbull said she wanted to bring clarity about what the zoning hearing board does, as well as make the ordinances easier for appointed officials to parse.
“I think it helps your appointed officials to understand what they're supposed to do and what a hearing includes,” Turnbull said.
With multiple bodies of volunteers, Turnbull said it takes a lot of time and expense to coordinate zoning hearings.
Council President Archie Brinza said there were “a lot of people” who wanted to come into McKees Rocks, and he wanted to create a more business-friendly atmosphere.
“We disincentivize these people by making them jump through hoops,” Councilmember Craig Meyers said.
“You’re on the front end of a lot of development opportunities which makes me think this is probably the right time to address this problem,” Turnbull said.
Recently the council had considered a new apartment complex behind Suds & Subs on Chartiers Avenue and spearheaded by Action Housing, Inc. The surrounding area also is poised for new growth in connection with the possible Choice Neighborhoods Grant, which would pay for new mixed-income and subsidized housing.
Turnbull said once the new ordinance was passed, there would need to be a training component for the zoning board in order to teach everyone how to apply the updated ordinances. Training for Ordinance Officer Bobby Thompson Jr. would also be important as he is the “first line” of enforcement when it comes to code issues.
Zoning ordinances take a bit longer to approve because there are several steps to go through to make it part of the code. To speed up the process, Turnbull recommended the council plan to advertise the new ordinance as pending to make it effective immediately.
“I know that’s bringing us out of the dark age,” Council President Archie Brinza said. “That’s something that we have to do.”