When A House Is Not A Home

There are several houses in downtown Warren that can’t be used as houses.

The Warren City Planning Commission may act to change that.

The city’s zoning law prohibits the use of the ground floor as living space in the C-1 – central commercial district – zone. Upper stories may be used as residences. The intent of the law was to ensure that office buildings had some kind of commercial enterprise at street level.

For much of the downtown business district, that’s not a problem.

However, there are houses in the district.

The historic Jefferson Tea House is an example. A business can occupy the whole structure or run out of the ground floor while the owner, or a renter, lives above. However, it cannot be used for the purpose its builders intended; it cannot be just a single-family dwelling.

In response to an inquiry from a citizen regarding a property that is for sale, City Planner David Hildebrand brought the concern to Wednesday morning’s commission meeting.

Members of the commission said they believe encouraging people to live downtown is a good idea and allowing them to do so in houses makes sense.

“I think there’s strong value in promoting people living downtown,” Bob Dilks said.

“There is tremendous demand for apartments” downtown, Pat Scutella said.

“We’re in a period where our need for retail space is contracted,” Chuck Conaway said. “What we don’t want is houses sitting vacant.”

Greg Fraser brought up the example of the Tybout House.

While the commission members agreed that allowing people to live on the ground floor made sense, they didn’t want to make that option available in every building in the district.

Scutella suggested that, if the commission were to make a change, it be only in cases in which “the structure was originally designed to be a residence.”