Watchdog group vows to block parking lot

Hollidaysburg home requesting ‘hardship’ variance

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Borough Council is taking up a zoning hearing for a proposal to turn an empty lot into 10 parking spaces for the Presbyterian Village in Hollidaysburg.

Presbyterian Village Executive Director Jeremy Schrader acknowledged curbside parking in the neighborhood of Gaysport has been scarce since the home was built in 2015.

“We want to be good neighbors,” Schrader said. “There’s been a shortage of parking in the neighborhood with the occupancy of the building and visitors.”

The Presbyterian Home is requesting a variance from the zoning board for the new parking area because the proposed site — an empty lot at the northwest corner of Betts and Jackson streets — is under the minimum area requirement of 8,000 square feet for the planned parking spaces.

But the council and Presbyterian Home face a lawsuit from a local group of community watchdogs if the change is approved.

A public hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday in Council Chambers of the Borough Municipal Building, 401 Blair St.

The Hollidaysburg Community Watchdog group, which is opening an office a block away from the courthouse this week, is poised to challenge the parking proposal, said the group’s president Richard Latker.

Latker and Watchdog member Regis Nale attended the council’s meeting last Thursday.

“We will sue. And win,” Latker said.

The group says the parking lot will actually further reduce curbside parking for residents in the Gaysport neighborhood.

The Jackson Street apartment building has received criticism from the group since its planning phase in early 2015, when neighbors argued that the developers, Presbyterian Senior Living, misrepresented the project as a “group home” to skirt regulations intended to protect local residents’ quality of life. Parking since the building’s opening has been an issue.

If the zoning board accepts the Presbyterian Home’s proposal to turn the vacant lot into a parking lot, then curb cuts would be required to make entrances to the lot.

Curb cuts would eliminate some curbside parking for area residents, Latker said. Codes enforcement and zoning officer Gerald Harbison confirmed some curbside parking would be eliminated.

Latker last week said the Presbyterian Home’s requested zoning variance is also based on supposed “hardship.”

To qualify for a zoning variance based on hardship, Latker said, an applicant must show that the physical characteristics of a property either prohibit its use for a permitted purpose or make it unusable for a permitted purpose.

“They need to prove some unreasonable hardship, and they will not be able to,” Latker said. “There’s no chance this will pass. I am surprised they will go to the zoning hearing board. If the board approves it, we will go to the court of common pleas.”

The watchdog group won a lawsuit against the borough for a zoning issue last spring.

In April, a visiting judge reversed a decision by the Hollidaysburg Zoning Board that would have allowed construction of an apartment building in Gaysport in violation of borough zoning rules.

The structure was proposed for 431 Bedford St., the site of the former 160-year-old apartment building destroyed by a Feb. 1, 2017, fire. It is now a vacant lot. But the judge found fault with the zoning board’s actions of approving a hardship variance to allow construction of an eight-apartment building instead of five-apartment building that was the limit under the current zoning rules.

The watchdog group won the lawsuit by challenging the apartment developer’s need for a zoning variance based on “hardship.”

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.