Ellwood City zoning laws haven’t seen an update in many years. Folk singer Bob Dylan was penning his first songs when Ellwood borough councils were penning many of the zoning laws. There was even a sentence that referred to a car wash an an automobile laundry.
Council is now in the final stages of approving a new zoning ordinance. Primarily, the downtown business area will be divided into four districts each with specialized encouraged use. Residential areas will not be affected nor will current businesses and residents in the business districts. Rather, each of the new districts will encourage the growth of business types that are already in the area.
The borough has been working on the new ordinances for several years with the help of Town Center Associates, a Beaver-based consulting agency that has worked with over 20 communities in Beaver, Allegheny and other counties.
“These are calculated, measured steps to attract new businesses,” council member David DeCaria said at Monday’s council meeting.
According to council president Connie MacDonald, one of the issues with the current zoning is the size of the downtown, which stretches on Lawrence from Third Street to 15th Street and from Beaver to Crescent Avenues, as well as Fountain and Spring Avenue near Fifth Street.
The revisions will designate one, much smaller area, as the core commercial district with an emphasis on local businesses and foot traffic.
“We’re trying to encourage an area where people can park, walk to an antique shop, get coffee and grab lunch,” MacDonald said.
The four new business districts are the Core Commercial, Gateway North, Gateway West and Institutional/Professional.
The Core Commercial will occupy the central hub of businesses along Lawrence and Beaver Avenue from Fourth to Eighth Street and will “preserve the historic character, building scale and building patterns of a traditional downtown by principally accommodating retail uses, services and ancillary activities that are pedestrian dominant.”
The first-floor of empty buildings will be reserved for future businesses. MacDonald had previously stated that residents already living on first floors may have to move, but later said he had been incorrect. No current resident or business will be affected by the new zoning.
The Gateway North area will include the businesses along Fifth Street and Fountain and Spring Avenues. It will be primarily for a mix of pedestrian and automobile dominant uses.
The Gateway West will be along Lawrence Avenue from Eighth Street to 13th Street. It will primarily be for automobile industries and other businesses that require large lots, such as medical clinics (the future DaVita Kidney Care) and veterinarian facilities (the Ellwood City Animal Hospital.)
The Institutional and Professional district will include Crescent Avenue to Park Avenue. It will contain Lincoln High School and possibly extend to Lawrence and Third and contain Holy Redeemer School.* It will be for medical offices, houses and churches.
The business area along Fountain Avenue containing Loccisano’s and T&M Hardware will remain unchanged, as will areas zoned for industrial purposes.
Under the zoning, each of the four districts will have permitted uses which can be approved by the zoning officer. For example, permitted uses of the Gateway West district are “automobile dominant land uses” and hotel/motel. Conditional uses must be approved by the Ellwood City Planning Committee and subsequently council. Conditional uses for Institutional/Professional include multi-family dwellings, off-street parking and hospitals.
MacDonald said the ordinance will be a living document, able to be amended as needed. Although it won’t preclude the possibility of different kinds of businesses in an area, it will encourage similar businesses in the same area.
Although Town Center Associates has developed zoning plans for other communities, including Beaver, MacDonald said Ellwood can’t be compared to Beaver.
“Beaver has a courthouse and is on the way to highways,” MacDonald said. “People don’t come to Ellwood unless they have a reason. We’re hoping to make Ellwood a destination spot and encourage new businesses to open and new residents to move.”
*Update 9:30: There is a discrepancy between the map in the public notice and the map in the zoning synopsis between which district Lawrence and Third is in.
On Monday at 5 p.m., the public is invited to attend a zoning hearing in the Municipal Building to provide feedback.
“We’re hoping people will come with ideas we hadn’t though of before,” MacDonald said. “Sometimes when you’re working on something, you’re too close to the project to see some issues.”
Council member David DeCaria, owner of DeCaria’s on 5th beauty salon, who will be unable to attend the hearing, previously stated that he strongly supports the new zoning.
To advertise the hearing, the borough has placed public notices in lots around Ellwood City.
Residents and property owners are strongly encouraged to attend. Council will not be voting on the ordinance at the hearing.