Gettysburg Zoning Hearing Board hears public comments

Local residents were given the podium yesterday as the Borough Zoning Hearing Board met to consider three variances on the proposed multi-use, three-building restaurant, apartment building, and retail space on Carlisle and North Stratton Streets.

The proposed development, consisting of an 8,000-square-foot retail area, a restaurant, and a 186-unit apartment building, is a 501 Richardson Acquisition, LLC project by Developer Tim Harrison of Staten Island, NY.

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Harrison is making use of a special exception that allows extending the building height from the allowed 48 feet to 72 feet, plus an additional 12 feet for mechanicals. A requested variance seeks to permit the seven-story building to be constructed without building step-backs as outlined by the ordinance, but using a smaller overall footprint, and a second seeks to permit the new Transit Center, also part of the project, to be less than the 24-foot minimum building height.

Continuing the meeting that began June 28, Borough attorney Matthew Teeter began by announcing that five residents had been granted party and interest status. Two of them were present and allowed to present evidence.

Brian Hodges, local businessman and resident, said he did not believe the applicant had met the 12 general criteria required for the special exception to increase the height of the building from 42 to 72 feet. Hodges said he had evidence that the proposed building, allowing for more apartment units, would have an adverse effect on traffic.

“There’s a high probability that the quantity of apartments, retail, and commercial space on this lot in this location will generate traffic patterns that propose a substantial threat to the health, safety, and welfare of this community.” He asked if any traffic studies have been done and was told, “no.”

The attorney for the project, Kurt Williams, asked Hodges if his statement concerning the negative effect of increased traffic was based on any studies he had commissioned.

Hodges responded, “No. I just work on York Street. I see it every day.”

“I personally am disappointed the borough didn’t ask for a traffic study,” said board member Michael Birkner. Without that, he added, there is not enough evidence to support that the extra apartments in the buildings would not be a threat to public safety.

Local business owner Linda Atiyeh asked who was bearing the cost of moving the transit station and was told by Harrison that the project would be covering the costs. She asked about the total of the state grants applied to the project, which Williams objected to as irrelevant.

“I don’t know that the financing of the project or the profitability of it has anything to do with a special exception,” Teeter responded, agreeing with the other counsel.

After returning from a break, board member Rodger Goodacre opened up the meeting to public contents but cautioned, “In terms of decision-making, only sworn testimony can be actually be considered as evidence in terms of decision making. But, public comment is, of course, valuable and necessary.”

Wesley Heyser, Gettysburg Borough Council President , said “The proposal which I have seen from Mr. Harrison fits well within the parameters that were set by the Borough of Gettysburg.”

Lois Starkey, former Gettysburg business owner and 35-year resident of Adams County, urged the board to look at the proposal carefully because she doesn’t believe it is complete and that hardship, one of the criteria for a special exception, has not been demonstrated. “I don’t believe the developer has made a good argument for completely changing the character of our community,” she said. Starkey added she is not against the development of a multi-use commercial property, “but I don’t believe the Borough or this board or even the planning commission have done their due diligence.”

Planning Commission chair Charles Strauss said the commission studied the application very carefully. At that meeting, it appeared that the application met the conditions for the special exception and the zoning variances. However, it would be up to the zoning hearing board to conclude finally that that was the case.” Strauss, who served on the borough council when the current ordinance was passed, said he was not in favor of it then. “However, the ordinance is the law that governs our borough.”

Gettysburg College student Charles Demarco agreed that due diligence had not been followed. As someone who has worked closely with both planning and zoning boards in New York, he said “The fact that there was no traffic study done by the borough or the applicant is very alarming to me. Demarco added that traffic on Stratton Street is already very heavy and that adding 500 more cars will worsen matters.

A second college student, Ziv Carmi, agreed that a traffic study should be considered before the project is completed. “As a bicyclist, I have had to deal with very heavy traffic and have sometimes been afraid.”

Janice Ford said she lives about two blocks from “our upcoming debacle.” She asked if the decision regarding the request for variances had already been made.

“It’s not a done deal,” responded board member Birkner. “There are issues that the applicant will be discussing with the board.”

Ford said she opposed the variance, which would give the developers the right to demolish the existing transit center and build another.

“We are merely following the ordinance as it has been written to meet the requirements for the height special exception,” said Williams during closing arguments.

Concerning the step-back exception, Williams said the developer is seeking to construct the buildings 30 to 35 feet from the property line to allow more green space, more sunlight, less shadow, better transitions of building height in the area, and better circulation patterns to make it more attractive and livable. “We feel this more than meets the intent of the ordinance,” he said.

In terms of the variance request concerning the height of the new transit center, which is six inches less than the ordinance requires, Williams said the request should be considered a “de minimis change,” which means too trivial to merit consideration.

“We think the variances that we’re asking for are quite minimal and indeed improve the project over what it would be if we followed the ordinances to the letter,” said Williams. He said many of the issues raised during the past two meetings are land development issues, which will be the next phase the project will enter after clearing the current hurdle with the zoning board. Under the purview of the borough and planning commission, it will include traffic mitigation, police and fire protection, stormwater controls, and other issues.

Birkner asked how they (the zoning board) could know if the design of the buildings would honor the scale and streetscape of the surrounding properties as noted by the ordinance. Solicitor Teeter said it is an issue that the board can discuss in its deliberations.

“We are in the process of agreeing to support or deny this request without even knowing what these buildings are going to look like. We have a historic town with a particular built environment, and if we just keep pushing this forward without knowing what we’re getting, then we’re headed for a potential problem,” he said.

Williams explained that the Historical Architectural Review Board (HARB) would be the entity that approves the design of the project.

“We’re going to have to put a heck of a lot of faith in the HARB that you’re going to do right by Gettysburg,” Birkner countered.

Following an hour-long board executive session, Goodacre said, “I’d like to report the board had some fairly in-depth discussions, and we’re going to need additional legal advice that will require some research on the part of the solicitor. He said the board would likely be ready to vote on the matter by the next meeting of the zoning heard board, July 26, 7:00 p.m.

judi

Judith Cameron Seniura is a freelance reporter. She began her journalism career in the early ‘70s and has written for newspapers, magazines, and other media in Ontario, Canada, Alaska, Michigan, Nebraska, San Antonio, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.

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John L. Ksh
John L. Ksh
10 months ago

Has anyone done a architectural mock up how the plan
would be laid out. If you want Gettysburg to remain historical
then consideration needs to be address to design and architectural hardware
usage. Maybe a bus parking lot could be added.

Susan Cipperly
Susan Cipperly
11 months ago

Nice job reporting on what was a complex meeting. Stay tuned, I guess.

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