The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


January 2, 2014

Grow up, Westmont

Pharmacy could be a boon to borough

JOHNSTOWN — Westmont Borough doesn’t want to grow up. At least that’s what supporters of a plan to bring a CVS Pharmacy to the 121-year-old municipality contend.

Andrew “A.J.” Schwartz of Pittsburgh-based Environmental Planning & Design leveled the charge last week at a meeting of the Westmont Zoning Hearing Board.

Schwartz said that a state law defining the Municipal Planning Code provides the basis of community zoning and development controls. And, Schwartz said, it requires municipalities to develop a comprehensive plan and update it every 10 years to use as a benchmark for zoning and planning issues and changes.

Westmont’s has not been updated since 1980.

“They make you ask: What does a community want to be when it grows up?” Schwartz said in a story by Tribune-Democrat reporter Randy Griffith. “Even a community like Westmont that is pretty much built out, you still have aspirations.”

That’s where we think Schawatz is wrong. We’re not sure that the people in power in Westmont Borough do have aspirations – other than to avoid change whenever possible. They seem to fight progress at every turn, convinced that the borough doesn’t need more business.

We certainly disagree on that note.

Schwartz and Michael Muldry of Pittsburgh-based Traffic Planning and Design Inc. compared Westmont’s commercial zone with those in Ligonier, Windber, Oakmont and Sewickley. They ranged from a high of 6.7 percent in Oakmont to a low of 2 percent in Sewickley. Ligonier and Windber each checked in at 3.7 percent, when the Route 30 commercial district was excluded from Ligonier.

Westmont’s is a paltry 0.25 percent.

What’s more, Schwartz said, the borough’s 3.5-acre commercial zone along Millcreek Road and Bucknell Avenue is completely developed, and entrepreneurs could not even tear down an existing structure and open a new business if they wanted to because the lots are too small for modern businesses.

The borough has made some exemptions, allowing a funeral home and two banks to open on Menoher Boulevard near the proposed CVS site. Schwartz is looking for the pharmacy to be added to that de facto commercial district.

While we understand the fears of some residents who don’t want to see their bedroom community overrun by commercial zones, we don’t see that happening any time soon. Fortune 500 companies aren’t looking to relocate to Westmont.

Some of the opposition to the proposal comes from an ulterior motive. Family members of the owners of Westmont Pharmacy – which isn’t actually in the borough but is located less than a half-mile from the proposed CVS site – had filed a court motion to try to block CVS Pharmacy’s bid. The motion has since been dropped, but there is little doubt that there is a push to ward off the opening of a new pharmacy.

Competition might be a bad thing for the owners of Westmont Pharmacy, but it would be a good thing for the local patrons, residents and the borough.

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