New zoning aims to protect business in downtown Quakertown

Author: , WFMZ.com Reporter, RKraft@wfmz.com
Published: Jan 28 2013 11:25:02 PM EST
QUAKERTOWN, Pa. -

A new zoning ordinance designed to protect the integrity of Quakertown’s mid-town business district will be adopted by Borough Council at its 7:30 p.m. Feb. 6 meeting.

The ordinance will make sure that 20 years from now downtown Quakertown still primarily will be a retail/restaurant/business district, explained council member Edward Scholl.

“It helps guide zoning for the highest and best use of properties in the downtown area,” said borough manager Scott McElree. “It’s advantageous not only to the community but also to businesses that eventually come into the borough. If we develop a vibrant downtown, it will benefit every business in the downtown.”

The zoning change, which has been in the works at least four years, was one of several items briefly touched on by council members during their Monday night work session, which served as an appetizer for actions they will take at their next regular meeting.

Council members gave not the slightest indication that any of the issues introduced will be hotly debated, either among themselves or by residents who may attend that Feb. 6 meeting.

Only three people attended the public work session, two of them reporters.

The proposed zoning change is ordinance 1198: Pedestrian-Oriented, Mixed-Used Overlay District. Scholl said it has been reviewed and cleared by both the borough and county planning commissions. He added borough council already has reviewed it, which may explain why no council members had any questions.

“It’s exciting to finally have this on the agenda for a vote,” said Scholl. “It’s been a long process.”

“Our zoning ordinances were contradictory,” he explained immediately after the session. “It was bad. Things that were really confusing were in there.

“The Bucks County Planning Commission sat down with us and we went through everything we wanted to see in the town. We created a special zone in the downtown from 5th Street to Hellertown Avenue. It protects those properties and gives them incentives for revitalization. That is in the LERTA district, which is a tax abatement program.”

Scholl said the new zoning “forces offices and residential up or out in the downtown” – meaning those uses either must be located above the street level of buildings or not in the town’s center.

He explained it will prohibit anyone from purchasing a street level storefront and converting it into apartments, but does not prevent having apartments above that storefront. “It makes sure that anything that goes on the first floor is restaurant or retail,” said Scholl. “There will be no housing on the first floor.”

He indicated potential developers who intend to invest in the center of town are excited about the new zoning because it shows the borough’s leaders intend to maintain the integrity of downtown Quakertown. He said it will limit any use that is “not the best fit for the downtown.”

Scholl said other parts of the ordinance incorporate the whole borough.

Also at its Feb. 6 meeting, council is expected to:

·      Approve a four-year contract with Asplundh Tree Expert Co. to do tree trimming around borough-owned electrical power lines. Council member David Erwin said the only bid came from Asplundh, adding it probably is the only company qualified to do that type of work. He said some of that pruning will be done around high voltage primary lines and added most of the work will be done in the first year. After the meeting, McElree said about $97,000 of the total cost of about $190,000 will be for work done in the first year. “That’s a good price,” said the borough manager of the total cost. “You save money by going out four years.”

·      Extend the Regional Household Hazardous Waste Collection Program for four more years, through 2016, with a 10 percent reduction in the annual cost.

·      Approve $65,000 in annual funding for the Quakertown fire department, money which is in the borough’s 2013 budget. Council will approve another annual fire department contribution in September: $80,000 for the truck fund.

·      Approve a $500 annual building and maintenance contribution for John Rivers Memorial VFW.

·      Approve a 2013 fee schedule, which council member Donald Rosenberger said includes “a few minor items that are increasing” – including a slight increase for swimming lessons.

·      Formally show its continued support for Quakertown Alive, the borough’s main street program, via a resolution. Rosenberger said that resolution is separate from council’s financial support for the program, which is done on an annual basis.

·      Recognize Feb. 7-14 as Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week, to raise community awareness about that medical condition.