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Zoning Ordinance Public Hearing – Event Venues – March 27, 2023 – 6:00 p.m. Borough Hall

The Gettysburg Borough Council has been working for over a year on inserting a new category of “Event Venue” into the zoning ordinance.  The owners of 68 W. High Street (as of Dec. 2020) want to have a business that would involve both indoor and outdoor events such as bridal showers and wedding receptions, parties,  ghost hunting, dinners, etc.  These events would range in size.  One hundred guests has been the maximum number discussed over the past year. 

The Borough Code does not currently include Event Venue so, by PA State law, it needs to be allowed somewhere in the borough.  Uses can be allowed either by “right” or “special exception”.  By right means little restriction, just get all permits required.  “Special exception” means an application to the Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB), where there can be public input, and additional conditions can be put on the activity, if deemed appropriate by the ZHB.

After months of trying to create limits on the number of events, hours of activity, location of tents, etc. that would apply to all potential event venues — not just the 68 W. High Street property — a draft ordinance was produced in September 2022 by Borough Planner Carly Marshall and Solicitor Eastman.  Ms. Marshall had reviewed meeting videos to make sure she had captured council’s recommendations.  At the time, it seemed like a good compromise between not allowing the activity at all in a given district, and allowing an unrestricted use in the confined spaces within Gettysburg.

At the January 2023 work session, however; some members did an about-face and removed most restrictions from this potentially detrimental use.  The only things remaining were the existing borough noise ordinance, rules about busses idling on the streets, and a maximum of 100 guests and staff on premises.  No limit on the number of events per month or days of the week.   A new draft was developed that allowed Event Venue as a by-right use in some districts and a special exception in others.  For some reason, in the Elm Street Overlay (neighborhood including W. High and S. Washington to South Street) it is included as a by-right use (same as Steinwehr Ave. Tourist Commercial), while on Baltimore Street, Office Residential (OR) and the development site behind the Transit Station (RORR), it is by special exception.   How is this appropriate ?

The Elm Street Overlay district is one of the most densely settled, historic neighborhoods in Gettysburg. During 2007, a consultant met with local citizens and officials to develop a plan under the PA State Elm Street program – a sister program to Main Street, but focused on potential neighborhood improvements, history, and programs.  Olde Getty Place was initiated as a program facilitated by the Housing Authority.  The Elm Street Overlay was added to the zoning ordinance to allow limited uses appropriate for a neighborhood setting.  A maximum 2,000 square foot limit was placed on buildings in the R-2 Residential portion to avoid non-residential structures being out of character for the neighborhood.  The Plan is still considered an official borough plan, but the program fell through the cracks when the Housing Authority underwent changes.  The Elm Street overlay remains in the ordinance.

Various people have commented that they believe economic/commercial development was a primary focus of the Elm Street program and ordinance.  Mr. English insists it is not a residential area.  At the February 27, 2008 public hearing for the proposed Elm Street Overlay (ESO) district, Tom Comitta, zoning consultant, described the purpose of the ESO as “to promote the development and redevelopment of a residential neighborhood adjacent to a commercial district according to the Elm Street Project Plan.”   I was at that public hearing on another matter, so I can confirm that this took place.  Concerned members of the neighborhood were in attendance.  (See excerpt below.)

In the proposed ordinance, Section 27-5A05 is deleted.  This sets a 2,000 s.f. limitation on buildings in the residential portion, in order to maintain neighborhood character.  This means the footprint of the building, not the upper floors or lot size.   At the March/April work session meetings, the Council agreed by consensus not to change or delete this section, but leave it to the Zoning Hearing Board to address, if needed.  It was not discussed after that.

While the Event Venue ordinance would affect several districts in the borough, the focus by the council has been on the 68 W. High Street property and what its owners want to do.  There are other properties even in the Elm Street Overlay that could meet the required .5 acre size requirement.  So there could be multiple event venues, with associated traffic, parking, and noise within a few blocks of each other.  Residents could be sandwiched in between properties that become event venues.  It can be cumulative, and it cannot be assumed that it won’t happen based on today’s ownership.  (Speaking of parking, South Washington Street is an RPP zone, where residents depend on street parking but could be pre-empted by event attendees.)

There is a public hearing on March 27, 2023 at 6:00 p.m.   If you are concerned about having the changes made to the Elm Street Overlay or other zoning districts in the borough, you can attend the hearing, or you can send an email to Wes Heyser, Council President,

To see the entire ordinance:     

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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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