The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

November 17, 2012

Somerset leaders to vote on zoning

Dave Sutor
dsutor@tribdem.com

SOMERSET — There are currently no ordinances regulating development along the picturesque 10-mile stretch of Route 31 between Somerset Borough and the Westmoreland County line.

That could change on Tuesday when Somerset County’s three commissioners, John Vatavuk, Joe Betta and Pamela Tokar-Ickes, decide whether to accept a comprehensive zoning map put forth by the Somerset County Planning Commission.

The proposal has deeply divided politicians and property owners near the rural highway that runs through Somerset and Jefferson townships.

The public meeting will take place at 2 p.m. inside the county’s office building on North Center Avenue in the borough.

“From my perspective, this is a difficult issue,” Vatavuk said.

The plan calls for dividing land into various zones: Conservation, agriculture, rural residential, medium density residential, resort, village, commercial and industrial.

The rules would be in effect for land within 250 feet of the road, a reduction from the original design of 1,000 feet.

Planning commission members started developing the regulations in 2006.

The ordinance was designed to promote “public health, safety, morals, general welfare, the provision of adequate light and air, and other public requirements,” and to prevent “overcrowding, blight, loss of health, life or property from fire, flood or other dangers,” according to the document.

Zoning would enable the county to control growth in the area, which is near numerous tourist attractions such as Seven Springs Mountain Resort and Hidden Valley Four Seasons Resort.

“It is to help guide new development along the corridor,” said Somerset County Planning Commission Director Bradley Zearfoss.

Somerset Township Supervisors Chairman Donald Miller supported the original limited idea of reducing congestion and preventing oversized billboards from dotting the landscape. Miller, however, opposed the final proposal because he felt it became too intrusive and cumbersome. Fellow supervisors Daniel Halverson and Randy Beistel voted in favor of the plan.

“I’m not for it,” said Miller. “There’s too much in it that, in my opinion, you would need a lawyer to figure out.”

The planning commission has provided the community information about the ordinance during public hearings.

“There was a mixed reaction among some of the residents,” Zearfoss said.

Carol Miller, who lives on the state route, often has spoken in opposition to the plan.

Her family owns 165 acres of land that is bisected by the highway. They have a house, two barns, a trailer and garage within the 250-foot zone. The property, which once was a working dairy farm, has been in the Miller family since 1847.

“If I want to do anything to my property I’d have to ask them what I can do. ... I like to keep my land nice, and I don’t want a board of people telling me what I can do,” Miller said.

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