City takes another step forward on family homes in business district

By BRIAN FERRY

bferry@timesobserver.com

In Warren, there will soon be a way to mingle the charm of owning a house with living right in the business district.

Both Warren City Council and the City Planning Commission favor allowing owners of commercial (C-1) district properties initially intended as single-family dwellings to use them that way.

There are still some details to be hammered out.

The commission’s proposed zoning ordinance amendment went before council in January. Council sent back some recommended changes.

On Wednesday, the commission approved a change and will send the new proposal back to council.

In order to remove as many barriers as possible from using structures as they were intended, council recommended, and the commission approved, allowing, “buildings originally constructed for residential use… revert to single-family residential use,” as a permitted use.

If approved by council, there would be no hearings, variances nor other legal hoops to go through to use as a house a building in the C-1 zone that was built to be a house.

Bedrooms – not simply spaces that can be used for apartments – are one way to determine if a building was intended as a house.

The Sill House, the Jefferson Tea House, Tybout House and a dozen others fit in that category. Three are on Market Street, four on Pennsylvania Avenue East, five on Third Avenue and one each on Liberty, Water and Hickory streets.

The commission had forwarded an amendment to council that would have made a C-1 single-family residence a “special exception” to the zoning ordinance. An owner wishing to use a property in that manner would have to receive an exception from the zoning hearing board.

Council countered that existing houses should be able to be houses without the exception.

The members of the commission approved that change but retained language that would require new construction of a single-family dwelling in a C-1 to go through the special exception process. Even if an existing building that was a residence originally burns down or is demolished, approval will be required to rebuild a house at that location.

The amended ordinance will go before council again for final approval.