Zoning board nixes townhouses

The city Zoning Hearing Board this week denied permission for builder Joe Crossman to construct eight townhouses in a single-family residential zone, because – by his own admission – he needed a variance to make a project on that site work financially.

The board ruled unanimously Wednesday after hearing from several neighbors who opposed the project on the 400 block of Grant Avenue for fear it would change the character of the quiet area by bringing in too many people and generating too much traffic, and because they feared it would lead to damaging storm runoff.

“I’m not trying to create hardship for anybody,” Crossman said toward the end the hearing. “I’m just trying to be in business like the rest of the world.”

It’s business for Crossman, but for the neighbors, it’s home, said neighbor Larry Peck.

Building townhouses – which are less expensive per unit than single-family homes because of common elements like walls – would be the only way to do a financially feasible project on that property because of housing prices, bank lending policies and the ground itself, which slopes down steeply not far from the street, Crossman said.

“There is zero feasibility of building a single-family home there,” said Crossman, who has owned the land himself or with partners for years.

Crossman had planned to construct two buildings, each with four two-bedroom units with back decks and no backyards because of the slope. He planned to build two parking spaces per unit and to construct underground “trench infiltration systems” for runoff.

He planned to market the townhouses to young professional and startup families for $110,000 to $120,000 each.

Zoning boards grant variances based on the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code and case law, according to David Tshudy, in a Pepper Hamilton online article.

But, according to case law, “a landowner’s mere economic hardship … does not support the grant of a variance,” Tshudy wrote.

“Money in and of itself is not a hardship,” said board solicitor Traci Naugle after the hearing.

The neighbors made it clear they thought the project would be detrimental to the area.

“I understand [Crossman’s] dilemma,” said neighbor Clark Adelman. “But [the project] will mean a lot more people and a lot more traffic,” adding that the young people Crossman would target would probably play music louder and party more than current residents.

“I think it will devalue our neighborhood,” Adelman said.

“We all like to see construction,” said neighbor Ted Glunt. But the decks above the back of his house on Logan Place could compromise his privacy, he said.

Just because an owner wants to use property that otherwise is worthless isn’t a valid excuse for damaging the integrity of a neighborhood, he said.

“I feel his pain,” said neighbor John Gressler. But there are longstanding concerns with excess water, he said.

Fifth Street is “a royal mess” when it rains hard, Adelman said.

Naugle asked each of the neighbors who testified whether they would object to single-family homes, which Crossman could construct without Zoning Board permission.

They would be less of a problem, because there would be fewer houses and fewer added residents, the neighbors said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038