Expressing concern about overcrowding of housing, New Castle Councilwoman Christine Sands said she wants a moratorium on certain building conversions.

Specifically, Sands is seeking a freeze on conversion of single family housing to multi-family dwellings until a new zoning ordinance is adopted.

She said she would like to see a new ordinance in place “hopefully by the end of this year or sooner.” Officials have been making revisions to the ordinance over the past two city administrations.

Solicitor Michael Bonner is researching Sands’ proposal to determine whether the city can legally impose a moratorium, which would prevent the city planning commission and the zoning board of appeals from granting certain requests.

At council’s Feb. 26 work session, Sands said she wants to keep all the single family homes in R-1 residential districts as single family units under the moratorium.

“We’re having more five and six units come in where there is no parking,” she said.

She added that if it continues to happen in R-1 districts, it’s going to lead to a more transient population in the city.

In addition, she proposes extending the moratorium to R-2 residential districts, requiring council approval of any conversion larger than a triplex.

The planning commission and zoning board could approve anything up to a triplex.

The R-1 districts are more restrictive than R-2 districts, with regard to what is allowed other than housing.

“I don’t want to take the power out of zoning and planning,” Sands said. “I just want council to have more power.”

She said she wants to see her suggestions become part of the new zoning ordinance.

Currently, conversion to a two-family dwelling in an R-1 district requires a special exception by the zoning board. Apartment houses are not permitted in these areas, although there are some because they were in existence before the current zoning ordinance was adopted in 1979. They are considered a legal nonconforming use.

Conversion to a two-, three- or four-family dwelling in an R-2 district also requires a special exception by the zoning board. Apartment houses, which are five or more units, are a conditional use and must obtain council approval.

Elaborating on the issue this week, Sands said parking conditions on the street “are becoming worse and worse.”

People are parking on sidewalks and “crush down the curbs because they have no place to go.”

In addition to the crowding situation, Sands said, the city has to “have a tax base that’s going to be steady.” And the path to that end is to have a population that is less transient.

“Otherwise, we’re not going to keep some of the better areas or uplift the other areas,” she said.

There also has been a concern from time to time that some people have converted houses to multi-family units without getting city approval.

Anthony Cioffi, working foreman in code enforcement, said that “if we catch anything” that has been vacant for more than a year, “then we refer them to the zoning board” for a ruling.

However, he said he hasn’t encountered any conversions without city approval.

“And we watch. It’s a zoning issue, but we’re going to knock on that door first.”

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