Residence use OK seen for commerce area

City of Warren administration has been tasked with developing language that will permit residence-like structures to be used for single-family residential living even if they sit in a commercial zoning district.

The Tybout House on Market Street, as well as 15 other similar structures in the downtown commercial district, are currently unable to be used as residences. “A good portion of those are in some kind of an office situation right now,” City Planner David Hildebrand said at the Planning Commission’s meeting Tuesday morning.

He initially proposed a zoning ordinance change where residential use in those types of structures would be considered a “permitted use.”

“We didn’t want to write the ordinance in such a way that someone could tear down a building and put in a new residence,” he explained. While the language is not final, he explained that the goal of any change is to provide “a way, if some of these houses, the owners choose to have them as a residence, that would be permitted.”

Multi-family use of such structures is already permitted as a special exception that would require review by the zoning hearing board.

Commission member Pat Scutella asked if the change for single-family could also be a special exception, which would be a less complex change than amending the zoning ordinance.

“I question why we are so averse to having a residential area” in the commercial district, said Commission member Charles Conaway.

“We didn’t want the mechanism for people to tear down commercial office buildings to put up residential houses,” said Hildebrand. “(That) would water down the commercial district into residential.”

He explained that when the ordinance was written in 1981 an emphasis was placed on building up the commercial district. “The thought was to keep the residential over there and to build up the commercial downtown,” he said, “but then allow people to live downtown, but on the upper floors.”

Commission member Bob Dilks asked if, for example, the Tybout House was utilized as a single-family residence and the building was destroyed by fire, whether the homeowner could rebuilt in that spot.

Hildebrand said that new residential construction would not be permitted in that example unless language is added to permit such use.

“(I’m) not convinced we need to get too complicated here,” Chairman Don Nelson said. “Maybe it is a special exception.” He said that he has “no problem” reverting those buildings to their original residential use.

“Are we being too restrictive by saying someone can’t rebuild?” asked Commission member Gregory Fraser, advocating for some type of “safety valve” to permit such a rebuild.

Nelson, advocating for the special exception option, said that the Planning Commission has had a tendency toward less regulation and advocated following that approach in this case.

Dilks raised the concern that the downtown does contain a historic district and any new construction would need to adhere to guidelines in that area.

“There has to be a certain personality in the downtown that needs maintained,” said Nelson.

Dilks asked Hildebrand if there was any “downside” to exploring the special exception route.

“I don’t think there is. (It) gives more review under zoning hearing board. The main part is that it fits in what is around it,” Hildebrand said.

“That could take care of the rebuild as well,” said Commission member William Tarpenning.

Administration was tasked with developing language to be presented to the commission at its Dec. 18 meeting.