Friday, May 6, 2016

Cluster Loses First Zoning Battle

Mercury File Photo by John Strickler

The Pottstown Cluster of Religious Communities wants to convert 61 N. Franklin St., known as the former Wainman Mansion, into office space for its operation and housing program. The zoning hearing board will decide if that's allowed in a series of hearings.

Despite what many may say about another property off the tax rolls, the current controversy over the Cluster's application to uses this grand old Victorian as office space really has nothing to do with keeping this property on the tax rolls.

That ship sailed last fall.

The borough and the school district both opposed making it tax exempt, and they lost.

Now already declared tax exempt by the Montgomery County Board of Assessment Appeals, the matter at hand is much more specific  and technical and essentially boils down to one thing: what is a "client-based social service provider?"

That is the phrase on which zoning officer Maria Gerber-Bleile hung her hat when she denied the zoning application by the Cluster. The current zoning ordinance specifically forbids that type of office in the Traditional Town Neighborhood zone in which the building is located.

The Cluster's strategy to overcome that obstacle is, or at this point "was," two-fold.

First, ask the zoning board to interpret the code and decide whether Gerber-Bleile was right in applying that definition to what the Cluster has proposed to do.

They did and they decided she was.

Had they decided the definition didn't apply, that would have been the end of it and no variance would have need been sought by the Cluster.

Which brings us to the second fold.

Now that they have decided the definition does apply, the hearings will have to continue and the Cluster must convince the zoning board that a variance should be granted.

The next hearing during which that case will be begun will take place on Tuesday, June 14.

That's it in a nutshell.

Now, if you're a fan of zoning testimony, or want to watch videos of 1) Zoning solicitor R. Kurtz Holloway reading objection letters from borough council and the school board; 2) Kenn Picardi's opening statement on behalf of the Cluster; or 3) Cluster Executive Director Barbara Wilhelmy reading the definition in question, then by all means, proceed on the Tweets.

(Those who do will find a somewhat unusual surprise at the end ....)

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