A consensus was reached Wednesday by three members of City Council - separate from tonight's vote on a request by Lycoming College to raze three houses on Union Avenue - to explore whether to make changes on regulations of what buildings can be demolished.
An ad hoc committee chaired by Councilwoman Liz Miele and attended by Councilmen Jonathan Williamson and N. Clifford "Skip" Smith reached agreement that it wants to explore making demolitions less problematic to residental neighborhoods. It also wants to balance the need for city growth and spare the bulldozer when appropriate.
"The demolition ordinance has been a concern for years," Williamson said. It basically gives council no authority, with exception of buildings in the city's Historic District, which is overseen by the Historic Architectural Review Board, he added.
"It's very preliminary and we're just exploring whether to make changes or not to the existing ordinance that was drafted as a compromise, I think, by the late Dr. Randall Hipple and former Councilman J. Michael Wiley, whose intention was for future councils to review it."
The committee will have city Assistant Solicitor J. David Smith review what communities that allow demolition of property falling under criteria for "conditional use" are doing.
That basically means anyone who wants to demolish a structure would have to give a reason that falls under the criteria for conditional use. There are seven criteria for granting or not granting demolitions, according to city officials.
"Under the ordinance that exists, council doesn't have any ability to deny demolition," attorney Smith said. "Under conditional use, it would give somewhat more discretion to council."
"It requires applicants to fill in the blanks as to the reason and purpose for the demolition," Miele said.
City Bureau of Fire Chief C. Dean Heinbach cautioned the committee, as it makes recommendations to council, not to create an ordinance that burdens people.
"If we put too many restrictions on them they are less likely to tear buildings down creating vacant buildings that are prime for arson," Heinbach said.
The city is dealing with a string of 11 arsons in the Newberry section since early April.
"It's important to let people know we have made no decisions or recommendations," Miele said. "These are ideas to pursue and think about," Williamson added.
Down the road, the committee also may consider whether to recommend drafting an overlay for demolition requirements for buildings that have historical significance, which need to be better defined.
A city planning commission representative and Gary Knarr, city zoning officer, are invited to the next meeting at 12:30 p.m. July 11.