Gettysburg Borough, ignoring planning committee recommendation, moves closer to allowing event venues by right
After over 30 meetings over the past year discussing the issue, the Gettysburg Borough Council is ready to support event venues as a right in the borough. An alternative recommended by the Gettysburg Planning Commission would have been to make events venues a special exemption. At Monday’s workshop meeting, 4 of the 7 members said they planned to vote for the ordinance. Unless one or more of the council members change their mind over the next two months the ordinance will pass with a 4-3 split vote when it is voted on in May. The ordinance will allow an event venue at the property at 66-68 W. High St. and also would allow by right the creation of events venues in the Elm St. Overlay as well as other areas of the borough. Before expressing their views, the council held a public hearing in which over a dozen people spoke both for and against the proposal. Council member Chris Berger voiced his opinion against the proposal saying the decision weighed economic opportunity and commercial interests with the livability and quality of life of our neighborhoods. “I feel in the Elm St. Overlay a special events venue is not appropriate. In my opinion, it’s too densely packed,” he said. “I appreciate what the Gettysburg Academy is all about, but having 100 people outside, the parking, there just so many issues. And if you open it up for that parcel it can be opened up to other parcels in the Elm St. Overlay. To me the nature of that is more residential,” he said. Councilmember Matt Moon said he was not supportive of the ordinance as it is currently written. “As of last fall, we had arrived at a pretty good compromise. The special exemptions along with the management plan gave the neighborhood the ability to talk to the borough and say ‘hey this isn’t working.’ When we talk about the life and vitality of the neighborhood we’re not talking about the buildings; we’re talking about the people who reside in them. When you look at S. Washington St. there is nothing commercial about it. I thank Mr. Strauss for his comments about caution. I think the compromise text that we had in place before the January meeting was stronger and more supportive of everybody in the neighborhood.” Council President Wes Heyser said he did not plan to support the ordinance as written. Council member Chad-Alan Carr said he planned to vote for the proposal, noting that when he first moved to Gettysburg he was concerned about the noise from the nearby railroad. “Friends of mine said that railroad was there long before you; you’re just going to have to get used to it. And I did.. now I sleep fine,” he said. Carr also expressed his opinion that the borough’s nondiscrimination ordinance was not relevant to the decision. “I don’t plan to change my vote,” said councilmember John Lawver. “I remember growing up there was a grocery store on that block of S. Washington St., there was a barber shop; there was an automotive repair center. Now they’re all gone. I’m definitely more pro-business and small business than I am none. It’s a mixed-use area and I think there’s way too much emphasis put on the High St. property as opposed to the other zoning zones this could go to,” he said. Councilmember Patti Lawson said she would vote for the ordinance, saying she had confidence that an events venue was an appropriate use in the Elm St. Overlay. “We know there are ordinances in place, like the noise ordinance, that are in place already.” Councilmember Judie Butterfield said she would also vote for the ordinance. Public Comment at the Zoning Hearing The following represents a sample of many of the comments given by the public at the zoning hearing. Gettysburg business owner Paul Kellett said he did not support the idea, saying there were “no use standards; no parking requirements; no maximum number of indoor guests. They could have music all night long. This is very concerning to me. People are going to park in my driveway. I’m going to have to call a tow truck. You’re in close proximity to a lot of churches. They could be blasting music and using the parking of those churches when there are solemn events such as funerals. This intensity of use should be a special exception use; have some conditions for parking.” Kellet mentioned the possibility of shuttle buses in the neighborhood. “You’re going to create a parking people for a lot of people including churches and the courthouse. I think it’s a very bad idea.” Rosemary Meagher: “We enjoy our backyard garden. Most of the houses adjacent to the English property are residents. This is a very densely-populated area. Meagher noted that the residential area of Colt Park was moving to stop commercial activity while the borough was moving to allow more commercial activity in the same ward. “What makes the residents of Colt Park more worthy of quiet, undisrupted residential neighborhood that the S. Washington/ W. High St. neighborhood?” she asked. She said the borough had initially had rules in place for security, but that those rules had been removed. “Somehow between September 2022 and January 2023 all of this got by.” No restrictions any day of the week; 2000 sq. ft. limit removed. No references t restrooms or ADA requirements. Destination Gettysburg representative Carl Whitehill said he supports the proposed changes. “We believe that events in these areas can be done respectfully to those who reside in these areas while at the same time giving visitors and local residents alike opportunities to enjoy our community.” Mandy Day from Gettysburg: “It is so disheartening to hear that after hours of previous discussion of guidelines for this venue, everything has just been tossed aside. You have voted on and passed a nondiscrimination ordinance that all people deserve fair and equal treatment but you are ignoring that because we don’t live in the single-family homes with the big yards.” Charles Strauss, Gettysburg Planning Commisssion Chair: “We took seriously our role to provide comments as you considered this ordinance change.” Strauss said the planning commission reviewed the proposal in January and April of 2022. “Somewhere between April 18, 2022 and February 21, 2023 it went from an application for one parcel to an ordinance text amendment and somewhere in those months the recommendations we made seemed to have either been revised or ignored. They went missing in the discussion.” Strauss said the planning commission also made comments to the borough in February and March of this year. Strauss said the commission was particularly concerned because it could find no other community of the same size that permitted this type of use. Strauss said the commission supported an events venue use but that the committee advised the borough to make events venues a use by special exception and not by right. Strauss said the commission wondered why the Elm St. overlay district would be treated with less oversight for this use than the ROR zoning district. Sue Cipperly from N. Stratton St. said the purpose of the Elm St. Overlay was to promote the development and redevelopment of a residential neighborhood adjacent to a commercial district. “Why should one neighborhood be protected and the other expected to accommodate a virtually unrestricted tourist entertainment business?” The owner of the High St. property in question, Scott English, encouraged the borough to move forward on the proposed zoning “I’m excited to move forward to offer a safe family-oriented venue that can serve locals and visitors.” It’s time to move forward. This is good for Gettysburg. If we don’t adapt to the changing needs in our community we jeopardize the preservation of our irreplacable resources.” Gettysburg resident Kris Webb spoke of several small businesses that had made a positive difference in the borough. She said she sided with the property owner. “Let us support our visionaries,” she said. Kathy Gilbert spoke in favor of the ordinance saying the English’s would be responsible operators of the business. Shelly Knouse said the English property “is absolutely beautiful. It’s renovated inside.” She said an event venue would bring more business to Chambersburg St. Marcy Bievenour said the property owners would take the needs of the community into consideration “I don’t believe he would be so callous as to damage the neighborhood. It’s mixed use throughout the town,” she said. A video of the public meeting, provided by Community Media, is available here.