NEW CASTLE Newest council member questions zoning ordinance

Council members plan to vote on fee increases for different city permits.
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- City council's newest member is not pleased with the city's progress on drafting a new zoning ordinance.
John Russo, who was sworn into office Monday night, questioned the progress of the city's efforts to revamp its zoning ordinance, something started in the mid-1990s.
"This was started four years ago when I left [council]. We are no further ahead now than we were then. I'm very disappointed this hasn't moved forward," said Russo, who served on council from 1983 to 1999.
James Manolis, city solicitor, explained that city officials are still reviewing the new zoning ordinance put together by consultants Mullin & amp; Lonergan Associates of Pittsburgh.
City officials received the new ordinance in October 1999, but it was inadequate, he said.
Councilman's comments: "It was poorly drafted and organized. There are mistakes, including a reference to the Monongahela River, which the last time I checked wasn't in Lawrence County. There are references to nonexistent ordinances and it doesn't seem to be drafted to meet the needs of our community," he said.
Manolis said he has read the entire 195-page document, but has only thoroughly reviewed 20 pages. He said it is a time-consuming task because each page must be checked against the city and county planning codes and compared with zoning ordinances.
Manolis told council it will take another six months to thoroughly review the document.
"In that time you need to develop a community objective for the next 20 or 30 years. What you expect for future development," he said.
Manolis noted that there is also a pending legal matter holding up the rezoning, but he could not discuss it publicly.
"My feeling is we are not in a hurry for legal reasons," Manolis said.
Also on agenda: In other business, council members will vote Thursday on a plan to create a regional enterprise zone. The new plan calls for Neshannock, Union, Taylor, North Beaver and Shenango townships and New Castle to be part of a zone that will only affect industrially zoned areas.
The city's previous enterprise zone designation ended July 31 and state officials will only grant a new one that includes a regional zone, said John DiMuccio, city business administrator.
An enterprise zone designation means new and expanding businesses have access to low-interest loans and tax credits when creating new jobs in those areas.
Officials in each community must approve the plan before it is created, DiMuccio said.
Council members will also consider increases in permit fees during Thursday's meeting. Fee increases range from $5 to $50 and affect permits issued for building, demolition, excavation, zoning, sewage tap-ins and annual permits for gasoline stations and restaurants and bars. DiMuccio said the city hasn't increased its permit-fee rates in the last few years and the proposed fees are competitive with other nearby municipalities.

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