Living in commercial zone closer

If it looks like a house, it’s probably a house.

Except for approximately 15 “houses” in the City of Warren that look like houses but can’t be occupied as residences because they sit in commercial zoning districts.

That may be close to changing as city administration has recommended changes to the city’s zoning regulations that will allow structures, such as the Tybout House on Market Street, to be used as single-family residences.

City Planner David Hildebrand said during a Planning Commission meeting last week that staff “took single-family existing structures and put it in as a permitted use” in commercial areas. A concern raised last month, that the ordinance did not permit rebuilding of such residences in the case of fire or some other calamity, was addressed as well with new residential construction permitted as a special exception, which would require approval from the city’s zoning hearing board.

“Basically, we’ve been following these locations since the Tybout House came up,” said Hildebrand, referencing another property on Pennsylvania Avenue E. “that has had office on the first floor. It has a new owner. The new owner was looking to make the whole thing residential. In that case, (such a change) would fall under multi-family use, which is a special exception.”

There is some ambiguity in the proposed change.

Commission member Pat Scutella asked if the Red Apple across from Blair could, theoretically, be utilized as a residence. Hildebrand said that it could.

“Any single standing structure could be turned into a residence,” said Commission member Gregory Fraser. “You can take any building downtown, with a special exception, you could turn it into a multi-family dwelling. The single family dwelling is just for new construction.”

City Council will ultimately have to approve the change. Hildebrand explained that once the ordinance amendments are prepared, council would receive the proposed changes and then schedule a public hearing. At that time, the recommended changes would be kicked back to the Planning Commission for additional review before council considers final approval.

“It’s not set up for any meeting of council yet,” said Hildebrand, explaining that last week’s discussion was intended to formalize the language to be put into ordinance form.