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Business owners calling for flexibility on zoning changes

KATELYN HIBBARD/Sun-Gazette Business owner Vince DiSalvo, center, suggests pros and cons regarding the several food trucks conducting business in Williamsport and surrounding areas over the past year during a city council discussion about drafting an ordinance for the trucks Monday afternoon.

Some parts of the proposed ordinance to change zoning to increase business and residential development in the East Third Street Gateway revitalization project went through a vetting process Monday.

Business owners Pete Sides and John Albarano II, chairman of the East Third Street Gateway Commission, are concerned about multi-family dwellings having a commercial component on the first floor. While they are not opposed to that potential change of zoning in the commercial district, the two expressed a need to the economic revitalization commission to proceed with caution.

“Unless you are a distinct proprietary business, it’s

difficult to attract people,” Sides said, warning the committee and members of Mayor Gabriel J. Campana’s administration not to be inflexible with this requirement.

Sides, specifically, cautioned the committee and mayor about the trend of more retailers going out of business, including stores in the nearby Lycoming Mall, because of the online shopping surge.

While Albarano said he appreciates the work done by the city zoning officer Gary Knarr, he had questions and perhaps some clarifications were warranted.

For example, Albarano asked if the entire first floor of a multi-family unit had to be commercial.

Albarano said that issue became important after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks with handicapped accessibility. After the terrorist attacks, developers had to think about elevators for handicapped accessible residents living in the second floor or upper floors. There’s no requirement in terms of commercial floor space on the first floor, Knarr said.

Another question from Albarano dealt with language in the proposed text amendments to the zoning ordinance.

“Can you define food processing?” Albarano asked. “Could this be a slaughter house?”

Councilwoman Liz Miele said the ordinance shouldn’t exclude small butcher shops, but the city doesn’t want to see large animal processing done in that district.

Albarano also said he thought it might be wise to limit the scope of the college building a coliseum or arena within the Central Business District.

“We already see that the arena downtown doesn’t have enough parking,” he said, referring to recent complaints after a tournament took up parking space outside the Liberty Arena and the Williamsport Parking Authority issued at least 40 tickets in one day.

“Should we expect parking requirements when the Central Business District operates without a parking requirement?” Albarano asked.

Knarr said these suggestions will be part of discussion by county and city planning commissions and other members of council.

The public also has its say in hearings about the zoning ordinance amendments.

The zoning ordinance text amendments are meant to provide an easy transition from the central business district to the commercial district, Knarr said.

Much of them were part of a strategy developed with input from a consulting firm hired two years ago to look at East Third Street Gateway developments, he said.

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