Waynesburg zoning hears testimony on plans for old county office building

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WAYNESBURG – Waynesburg Zoning Hearing Board heard testimony Tuesday on a plan to renovate the old county office building on High Street into an apartment building but then continued the hearing, requesting additional information from the developer.


John McNay, the building owner, and Martin Padezanin, a contractor, propose converting the six-story building into a 28-unit apartment building. The property is zoned B-1 for business use and an apartment is a permitted use in the district.


The developers, however, need a variance for parking. The zoning ordinance requires an apartment building with 28 units to have at least 42 parking spaces. The site has space for only five parking spaces and for the remaining 37 the developers propose subleasing spaces in the borough parking lot on Strawberry Alley, which is now leased to the county.


The county, in a letter introduced Tuesday, agreed to sublease 37 spaces in the lot with the conditions the renovations are completed, an occupancy permit is issued, an acceptable sublease is negotiated and the spaces be made available to the county from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for jurors called for jury duty, which occurs at least four times a year.


The variance is needed because, according to the ordinance, the parking spaces must be within 50 feet of the building; the borough lot is 429 feet away.


Padezanin said he and McNay plan to develop the building into 28 “higher end” apartments. They intend to upgrade the section of the borough parking lot they will use, paving it, placing a fence around it and installing a card swipe system to control vehicles using it, deactivating tenants’ cards when the lot is used by jurors.


The project will “enhance” the character of neighborhood, Padezanin said. “You’ll get a building rehabilitated, you’ll get people in town and a nice tax base,” he said. The proposed area for parking is already a parking lot, he added.


Padezanin said he didn’t believe restricting the lot to tenants during jury duty would cause a problem because most tenants would be at work during the day and on street parking is available in the area.


Borough solicitor Bill Hook noted the zoning ordinance also has a requirement for landscaping a parking lot. Padezanin said some landscaping could be done but probably not to the ordinance’s specifications because of the limited space being subleased in the lot. He said he also would ask for a variance on landscaping.


Waynesburg University opposes the project. Raymond J. Hoehler, an attorney for the university, asked that the variances be denied, noting the developers failed to provide a sublease agreement with the county or documents indicating the borough has agreed to the arrangement.


Hoehler said the use of the building for apartments conflicts with the borough’s master plan, which was prepared by the university and accepted by council and calls for the old county office building to be demolished and the lot developed for parking.


The borough parking lot the developers propose using, in addition, is in the U-1 university zone, which would require the developers to obtain a special exception from the board, Hoehler said. He also noted the developers’ plan fails to show details regarding improvements to the borough parking lot or provide information regarding where tenants will park when they don’t have access to the lot during court session.


In response, Padezanin said it was understood that the sublease would be negotiated with the county once the project is completed. He questioned whether the master plan was a legal document and citing the ordinance, noted that “customary business accessory uses, such as parking” is listed as a permitted use in a U-1 zone.


In regard to tenant parking during jury duty, Padezanin said the developers would wait and see how the arrangement works and then consider other options. Maybe the university could lease some space in the university parking lot across the street, he said.


County Commissioner Blair Zimmerman, who was mayor of Waynesburg until January, also addressed the board and noted the master plan Hoehler had referred to had been prepared by the university’s architect but was never accepted by council or by the mayor.


In regard to parking, Zimmerman said, the parking situation in the area would be much better if employees of contractors working for the university and university students didn’t park in the county’s lot.


The commissioners had met with the developers and have a “gentlemen’s agreement” with them to lease the parking spaces “at cost” once the building is rehabilitated and an occupancy permit issued, Zimmerman said.


He also said the commissioners support the project because of the improvements it would represent to the downtown area, the increase in apartments available for people to live and the increase in the tax base that would result from the building’s use.


The use of the borough lot for the project had been discussed by borough council last month. At that meeting, borough solicitor Linda Chambers told council the county will be able to sublease the lot without council’s approval provided the county’s lease with the borough does not specifically prohibit subleasing. Borough manager Mike Simms said Tuesday the lease has no such prohibition.


The board met in private session and when it reconvened approved a motion continuing the hearing until next month and asking the developer to provide a sublease agreement with the county and a document regarding the borough’s stance on the parking lot’s use and details on improvements to the parking lot, including paving, space dividers, lighting, fencing and information about the card-read system.


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