Zoning Discussion Draws Crowd at DuBois City Council Meeting
DUBOIS – Updates to the City of DuBois’ ordinances and zoning brought a large crowd to Monday’s public hearing. DuBois Avenue and the area around Juniata Lake are the next to be looked at. The city is basing the updates on what the status of an area currently is, the regional comprehensive plan and the PA Wilds program.
DuBois Avenue, currently a residential subtype, is looking to be made into commercial. It was stated by City Solicitor Toni Cherry that that the area is already effectively commercial or heading that direction with increasing numbers of homes becoming student rentals, the car wash, the bar, and so forth. Homes that remain homes will be grandfathered in as a nonconforming use.
The community around Juniata Lake had a longer discussion. To accommodate the citizens’ comments the public hearing was paused to allow the scheduled regular meeting to occur. The heated sticking point was the DuBois Country Club. Founded in 1903, the club is a nonconforming use property as it predated the creation of city ordinances by over six decades. After a question by a member of the public, Cherry admitted her husband is a part owner of the country club.
According to Cherry, nonconforming properties have a large leeway of rights due to United States Supreme Court rulings. Nonconforming properties are allowed to “naturally expand” with a noticeable leeway. An often used analogy during the hearing, an adult entertainment facility can become a restaurant. Cherry and a part owner Don Erickson confirmed at the meeting the country club almost became, and could again, a low income housing development due to what is allowed by nonconforming use. In addition to natural expansion, the 144 acres of land held by the club is mineable and drillable for Marcellus Shale.
Erickson stated at the hearing that the club is looking at ways to raise revenues. The club had turned down a profitable offer when ownership had changed hands. The million dollar offer would have turned all the country club land into low income housing. The club is currently looking at other means of raising money including condos and hotels.
The attending public expressed repeated desire that a hotel would not go in near Juniata.
The city’s current plan is to revoke the country club’s nonconforming use through a round about method. By zoning the area recreation the club will then be in a zone in which its uses conform to. This will apply restrictions on what the club can do on its property in the future. Recreational zoning will move the currently open spaces into a category with parks putting the 144 acres out of the hands of mining and drilling as a side effect.
The problem the attending community members had was that the DuBois Country Club could still build a hotel in recreational zoning as the ordinance is currently written. Comments indicated that the council should either remove the ability for the club to create a hotel from the ordinance or that a zoning change isn’t needed. Recreational zoning would place limits on where and the size of any hotel constructed.
The latter group felt that “natural expansion” should be limited to other clubs in the general area. Cherry had explained earlier in the night that natural expansion allowed the club to do anything it can show is the norm for its business type, citing Seven Springs and Toftrees as examples. Ppublic opinion at the meeting felt the Juniata area is too dissimilar to Cherry’s examples for the country club to use to justify for a hotel under current zoning.
Erickson stated the club is looking at revenue sources and hasn’t decided on anything yet, due to the increased traffic it may bring to the area. The club and lake is near a church, public school and boy scout center leading to large numbers of children on the roads at certain times of the year.