The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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May 1, 2013

Judge denies zoning appeal for townhouses

JOHNSTOWN — An Ohio developer’s plan to build income-eligible townhouses in Richland Township has been dealt another setback.

A Cambria court judge has denied Laurel Pointe Family Apartments’ appeal seeking to change zoning at Walter and Nees avenues to pave the way for the development.

President Judge Timothy P. Creany’s ruling: The land is properly zoned as is.

“We do not consider the Ashbridge property spot zoned or improperly set aside on an island,” Creany wrote in an 11-page opinion. “To the contrary, it is positioned at the intersection of two well-traveled roadways, making it highly suitable as an office-commercial venue.”

While noting that he also did not believe changing the property to the R-4 zone the developers are vying for would change the character of the mostly residential neighborhood either, Creany noted the legal burden was on the Laurel Pointe group to show the current zoning was improper.

They fell short, he wrote.

Creany’s ruling gives another victory to the more than 100 local residents who have staunchly opposed developer Miller-Valentine’s Laurel Pointe proposal. The developer has been pushing plans to build two

24-unit townhouses and supporting amenities on the land since late 2010.

Miller-Valentine challenged the township’s zoning ordinance in March 2012 – and then appealed the township’s decision to keep the zoning as-is in August.

“I think the court’s opinion speaks for itself,” Richland Township Solicitor Gary Costlow said. “The judge agreed that there has to be a legal basis to change an ordinance. That includes zoning.”  

The 12-acre lot – a subdivision of Ashbridge Oil – has been undeveloped for years.

Originally zoned residential, it was zoned commercial in the mid-1980s at the request of the land’s owner, Frank Ashbridge.  

And it has remained that way ever since, Richland Township supervisors said.

Laurel Pointe’s attorneys now have until May 20 to appeal the decision to Commonwealth Court.

Attorneys from both sides suggested last year that the matter, regardless of the decision, could be appealed up to the state’s highest court – but as of Wednesday it was unknown if that will happen.

Butler County attorney Donald Graham, who is representing Laurel Pointe’s developers, did not return a call for comment Wednesday.

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