PUNXSUTAWNEY — During a special meeting Wednesday, Punxsutawney Borough Council voted to override Mayor James Wehrle’s veto of the change in Ordinance 1120 in regard to allowing apartments in first-floor commercial establishments in the town center commercial district.
A motion was made by Michelle Lorenzo, seconded by Mike Porada, to override Wehrle’s veto 6-1, with Lorenzo, Porada, council President Larry Chenoga, Jaime Sherry, Toby Santik and William Spencer voting yes, and Eric Story voting no.
Spencer, who voted in favor of overriding the veto, had voted no to override the veto previously, and said he was still against overriding the veto because regulations are killing everything.
“I never saw a problem with it before because the town is doing good, and I didn’t need to vote to override the veto,” he said.
He has changed his mind due to the number of people who have spoken in favor of the ordinance.
Prior to the vote, Chenoga said he recalled what Susan Glessner, former council president said: “It would be good to get IUP into downtown, and then the other buildings will fall into place like a domino effect.”
Chenoga said that is coming true, with the ATA Terminal Center, a new medical building on Prushnok Drive, the future Graystone Court (at the former Mary A. Wilson Elementary School) and Grace Place.
“See what can happen if everyone works together,” he said. “I was driving around Punxsy the other day and saw the new homes being constructed. You don’t see this in other towns. Do I want to see apartments mixed in with businesses? Heck no; business areas should remain business areas.”
Santik said he heard no one speak in favor of the veto at Wednesday’s meeting, and said he would vote to override it.
Wehrle said prior to council’s vote that he respected everyone who spoke against his veto, but he wasn’t changing his mind.
Lorenzo said it was nice to see the community come together, and “I’m going to vote to override the veto.”
“I think council should listen and take heed and override the veto,” Santik added.
Story did not comment about his vote.
Others who spoke against the veto during petitions and comments:
• Ron Voris said his mother-in-law, brother-in-law and wife own Paul Beatty Jewelers.
“We want to thank everyone on council for all of their hard work and time spent making difficult decisions,” he said.
Zoning ordinances define how you use your property, he said. Cities, counties, townships and local governments adopt zoning plans in order to set standards to insure that the land is used for the common good.
Voris said after first opening in Sykesville because there were no available commercial spaces in downtown Punxsutawney, his late father-in-law, Paul Beatty, eventually opened his store in Punxsy because he was aware of the need to be located downtown to be successful.
Voris said if you own a retail space downtown, and you can’t fill the space, perhaps you should reconsider your rental prices in your retail space.
He said after 62 years downtown, the owners were recently approached to move to the new medical building.
Voris said there are a lot of good things happening in downtown, such as Gilson Glass, Trailhead Gallery, My Fair Lady and Caterina’s, among others.
“The downtown is showing some life once again,” he said. “We hope we didn’t make a mistake passing up an opportunity to move out. If storefronts become residential property, reducing the amount of retail space, and customers don’t come here, we might have to rethink our place in downtown Punxsutawney.”
• Jim Cassidy, chairman of the board for the Weather Discovery Center, said many schools and organizations visit the center, and that downtown apartments will give a negative perception about Punxsy when groups visit.
• Katie Laska, owner of Caterina’s and Laska’s Pizza, said the borough owes it to its founding fathers and future stakeholders to override the veto.
• Joe Ferrara, co-owner of the building that is home to VanDyke & Company, has four full-time businesses in the block by South Findley Street.
“It’s important to maintain the character of the downtown,” he said. “The reason it was zoned commercial is so it can have the highest and best use.”
Ferrara said to allow first-floor apartments isn’t fair for full-time inhabitants who must put up with noise from traffic.
“Only commercial properties should be allowed in first-floor retail space,” he said.
• Marty Armstrong, president of the Punxsutawney Area Historical & Genealogical Society, said years ago, livestock was permitted to roam through town and Barclay Square.
“Those days are gone, times change, that’s why council has to override the veto,” she said. “We must be concerned about the appearance of the downtown.”
• Glessner said it is less stressful to be on the public side of council chambers than at the main desk.
“Sometimes laws are made for our protection,” she said, adding that this decision will influence the downtown area for years to come. “I guess the mayor could change his mind.”
• Jesse Miller, owner of Miller Brothers Furniture, said he and his brother, Dwayne, purchased the empty building at the corner of South Gilpin — where their furniture store is located — following a fire at Polly’s Fashion Shop next door. The Millers’ building also houses five other businesses on the block.
“No one has contributed more to the downtown than my brother and I in the last 25 years,” Miller said. “We love our community, and the businesses will move out if the commercial district disappears one by one.”