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Questions Gettysburg Borough’s decisionmaking

At its March 27, 2023 work session, after two public hearings, the Gettysburg Borough Council discussed the proposed event venue ordinance that will affect seven zoning districts, and the proposed zoning map change that pertains to Johns and Highland Avenues. 

In support of the map change, Mr. Stone of Colt Park provided an eloquent statement of what a neighborhood is and the importance of protecting it.  Event venue comments focused on one property and its owners in the Elm Street Overlay (ESO), rather than possible impacts on other districts.  Inserting a virtually unlimited entertainment business in the middle of a historic residential neighborhood (ESO) was touted as being good for businesses outside the Elm Street Overlay.  Friends praised the owner, and vouched for him being a good person.  A family history of having businesses on Chambersburg Street was touted by the owner. Residents and building owners within the ESO expressed concerns about noise, parking, traffic, buses, and safety in a densely populated neighborhood.  They wondered why their homes were not considered as worthy of protection as those in Colt Park.  Mr. Stone’s description could apply to their neighborhood, as well.

Three Council members said the event venue use should not be added to the Elm Street Overlay, it is too densely packed, it would create an undue burden on the people of the neighborhood, and a previous draft of the ordinance provided more protections. The other four stated that — people will have to get used to the noise, it may not be as bad as you think it could be;  I’m pro-business; There are compelling arguments for benefits to businesses elsewhere in the borough if this property is an event venue and; my colleagues all said it well.  Two of these four were the Ward 3 representatives.  Three of the four live in single-family zones where event venues will not apply.

No one mentioned the legally-required review provided by the Adams County Office of Planning and Development (ACOPD), which reads:  “Allowing Event Venues in this setting that do not support this sense of place or “neighborhood” and that do not directly benefit the residents in the district would not be consistent with the purpose of the Elm Street Overlay”.  Also, “The amendment…implies that those residential areas in the community that are generally lower income, lower proportion of home ownership, and more racially diverse are where it is acceptable for the potential impacts of such event venue uses.” ACOPD questioned whether this is equitable when the broader population is not asked to do the same.

“We especially discourage allowing event venues in residential districts and within the Elm Street Overlay District.  “…Elm Street Plan is intended to benefit the borough’s minority and low-income neighborhoods.”

ACOPD advised against deleting the 2,000-square-foot maximum for non-residential structures in the residential portion of the ESO.  “This standard serves the purpose of retaining residential uses and promoting small, community-centered commercial and institutional activities.  Removing this standard could ultimately be detrimental to not only the purpose, but the character of the entire Elm Street Overlay District and the neighborhoods within by allowing larger scale structures and uses.”  During the past year, this section was not discussed after initially agreeing to leave it intact.  Now its deletion is in the ordinance. No reason has been given.

Additional comments noted that “outdoor events should occur with less frequency than indoor events.” Is not enforceable, and by not specifying the number of days per week/month/year events are allowed to be held, events could be held every single day, which would not be appropriate in residential areas.

The way the issue of tents is addressed “would technically permit outdoor tents to remain standing at all times.”  ACOPD recommended that the frequency of events and the staging of tents be revisited.

In summary, ACOPD said “…we cannot support the current amendment as proposed.  We especially discourage allowing Event Venues uses in residential districts and within the Elm Street Overlay District….We also encourage the Borough to propose an amendment that is consistent with current planning policy, especially the Elm Street Plan that is intended to benefit the borough’s minority and low-income neighborhoods.”

The Adams County Office of Planning and Development takes a look as an outside agency, not influenced by personal relationships, biases, or political viewpoints.  What they have pointed out is residential neighborhoods, including the Elm Street Overlay, should not be expected to host event venues, with all the attendant impacts.  It has been obvious to those in attendance at a multitude of meetings that an individual landowner in the ESO is demanding free rein for the use of his property, and some members of the Council are accommodating him.  No other districts have been discussed, and the residents of the ESO have received dismissive responses when they ask how this amendment would benefit the ESO and further – why their homes and neighborhood are deemed less important than other neighborhoods within their own ward or why perceived benefits to businesses in other areas in Gettysburg take precedence.

The Borough will be undertaking a rezoning effort with the guidance of a professional consultant.  An ordinance change affecting 7 zoning districts and potentially having major impacts on some areas of the community should be under the purview of that upcoming effort, rather than being pushed through with some technical flaws and indifference to the effects on residents.  

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Susan Cipperly is a retired professional planner who has lived in the Gettysburg for 25 years. She considers her involvement in local planning and zoning issues a way to contribute to the borough in general, and to maintain neighborhoods in particular.

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Ralph Duquette
Ralph Duquette
1 year ago

Spot zoning by any other name is still spot zoning.

Beth Farnham
Beth Farnham
1 year ago

Great points, Sue!

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