New Castle News

July 26, 2013

City may start again with zoning

John K. Manna
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — New Castle City Council may have to go back to square one to make changes to the zoning ordinance.

Proposed amendments to the ordinance include items such as permitted fences in residential districts, dimensions of signs and changing home occupations from a conditional use approved by council to a special exception approved by the New Castle Zoning Hearing Board of Appeals.

Amendments also include language modifications regarding the city’s historic district and downtown overlay. The amendments essentially change certain building improvements from mandatory to voluntary.

At a public hearing on the proposed amendments this week, 17 people raised objections to the language changes for the historic district, which basically covers much of the North Hill.

The general consensus was that changing the language would water down the ordinance and provide less protection for properties in the historic district.

One of the speakers, Jerry Morgan, an investor, said changing the language “would make it easier for me because I wouldn’t have to follow any guidelines” as far as making renovations.

At least two council members, president MaryAnne Gavrile and Thomas Smith, also oppose the changes.

Gavrile said she would like council to have the opportunity to vote on the proposed amendments individually rather than having one vote on the entire ordinance. This would allow council members to vote in favor of other zoning changes and vote against the historic district changes.

However, solicitor Jason Medure said council can cast only one vote, either in favor or in opposition to the entire ordinance.

Council would have needed to introduce separate ordinances for each section to be amended, he said.

A vote on the ordinance is scheduled for Aug. 22. If council votes down the ordinance, it could then introduce separate ordinances for each section to be amended.

A new ordinance or ordinances would again have to go through the review process of the city and county planning commissions before being considered by council.

Councilman Richard Beshero said he admires the Historical Architectural Review Board’s passion, but that there is a “fine line between passion and overzealous.”

Last year, council considered elimination of the board, a seven-member advisory body, plus language changes, but ultimately decided against making any revisions. The current proposal does not eliminate the board, but alters its role.

Beshero suggested adding language that would require owners of historical homes to seek zoning board permission for improvements that may not fall within the requirements of the historic district. That, he believes, would give the Historical Architectural Review Board “some teeth” and benefit homeowners and the city.