Two immediate neighborhood problems — a rash of burglaries and traffic snarls around the Holme Avenue bridge reconstruction — dominated discussion at the May 25 meeting of the Holme Circle Civic Association.
But neighbors also learned of a looming, broader issue that could one day change the way that property owners across the city are permitted to use their homes.
Eva Gladstein, executive director of the city’s ad hoc Zoning Code Commission, told residents of several key elements incorporated into the commission’s proposed new zoning code.
Some elements of the proposed code, particularly those that would expand allowable uses of residential properties, have some Council members, including Brian O’Neill of the Far Northeast’s 10th district, waving red flags. During Holme Circle’s meeting, O’Neill’s legislative aide, Bob Barilli, told neighbors about some specific concerns.
The Zoning Code Commission has proposed allowing a multitude of new small-business-related uses into homes as a matter of right or with a lesser standard of regulation, according to Barilli.
That is, if the proposed code changes were ratified, a homeowner wishing to open any of numerous small businesses in his residence no longer would have to seek a zoning variance from the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment. Rather, the applicant would need only a certificate of use from the ZBA, and neighbors opposing the business use would face a heavier burden in fighting it.
O’Neill, who is a member of the Zoning Code Commission, had recommended to that body that it eliminate use variances from the new code altogether, much like other cities have already done. Instead, according to Barilli, the commission’s proposed code, if ratified, would make it easier for residents to conduct businesses at home.
Gladstein explained that the proposed code would employ numerous restrictions on home-based businesses to minimize the impact on surrounding neighborhoods. There would be limitations on the number of on-site employees, visitors, parking spaces and pickups or deliveries.
Yet, Barilli argued, the proposed code offers little or nothing to facilitate enforcement of home-based businesses, such as funding of more city inspectors.
Gladstein said that the Zoning Code Commission will continue to solicit and collect public feedback on the proposed code throughout the City Council hearing process.
To learn more about proposed changes in the city’s zoning code, visit www.zoningmatters.org
Also at the May 25 meeting, several residents of Holme Avenue complained about traffic problems connected with the ongoing bridge reconstruction between Longford and Arthur streets.
The four-lane avenue narrows to one lane in each direction in the construction zone. Residents who live at the construction zone complained of speeding cars and motorists using cut-through routes, including side streets and common driveways, to avoid the bottleneck.
A project manager from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation told residents that traffic barriers and speed-detecting devices have been used in the zone to control vehicles, but closing the avenue is not an option due to traffic volume.
At a previous HCCA meeting, the general contractor on the project reported that the state contract calls for PennDOT to provide funding for hiring extra police to sit at the construction zone if needed.
But last week, the PennDOT official said that the state agency would be able to fund extra police only for “a day or two.” Work is expected to continue through summer 2012.
On the burglary front, HCCA board member Joe Razler reported that Capt. Deborah Kelly of the 8th Police District had notified him about an increase in residential break-ins in the area.
The captain advised that residents keep their doors and windows locked to prevent easy access to their homes, Razler said. Residents also should keep an eye on other homes on their blocks. If they see something suspicious, they should report it to police via 911.
The next Holme Circle Civic Association meeting will be Wednesday, Sept. 21, at 7 p.m., at St. Jerome School, Stamford and Colfax streets. ••