Mayor says he’ll veto change to ordinance

PUNXSUTAWNEY — During a special Punxsutawney Borough Council meeting Tuesday, Mayor James Wehrle said he plans to veto a change in Ordinance 1120 approved in regard to allowing apartments in first-floor commercial establishments.

A public hearing regarding the change was held prior to the vote, with no one speaking against the ordinance change.

The current ordinance 1120 reads: “A commercial building is a structure planned for commercial practices of which its design reflects a purpose to display goods or services, and consumer access to the goods or services, and consumer access to the goods and services.”

The purpose of the amendment was to prohibit apartments on the first floor of a retail space, which was requested by the Punxsutawney Area Chamber of Commerce.

Following the public hearing regarding the change, a special meeting was convened during which council members voted 4-2 to approve the amendment to the ordinance, which reads: “Except for commercial buildings on the first floor,” with Eric Story and Bill Spencer voting against the amendment, and Larry Chenoga, Michele Lorenzo, Toby Santik and Mike Porada voting yes.

The seat that was held by Robert Reesman is currently vacant, which is why there were only six votes cast on the measure.

Wehrle said the reason he plans to veto the ordinance amendment is because he felt it’s an intention to tell property owners — who work very hard for their money — what they can and can’t do with their own buildings.

“I think council is trying to regulate our way into prosperity,” he said. “From everything that I’ve read and studied, I don’t think that’s possible. I don’t think this amendment should be passed into law at this time.”

Following the meeting, Lorenzo said there are some safety concerns by allowing apartments in first-floor retail spaces.

“We don’t know what kind of families will be living in the downtown main street commercial business area,” she said, adding that’s what it is there for: Retail businesses to operate.

“We don’t want to see little kids playing out on the sidewalk, bumping into pedestrians and the problems that pets can also cause on the sidewalk,” she said. “There are too many safety concerns.”

Lorenzo said people need to write letters to council and the mayor about the amendment.

“The only way things can ever change is if people start to speak up,” she said.

During the meeting, Story said people walk animals all day long throughout downtown, and it doesn’t appear to be a safety issue.

Spencer said unless someone has ever owned property downtown, he or she doesn’t understand the difficulty of renting retail space.

Wehrle said he has 10 days to sign the ordinance or veto it, and that council can override it with a majority vote.