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Report to Tioga County Board of Commissioners

From the Tioga County Planning Commission

Submitted as partial testimony at the

Public Hearing on the County Wide Zoning Partnership

March 11, 2009

(Two addendums attached)

Opening Remarks: For the last two and a half years the Tioga County Planning Commission has been working on developing a county-wide zoning ordinance. Over that period of time numerous public meetings have been held both at our regular Planning Commission meetings and at over twenty public meetings with municipalities and organizations across the county, a list is included with this report.

Purpose - This Ordinance is designed to provide the minimum conditions necessary to achieve the goals of the Tioga County Comprehensive Plan. To promote the public’s health, safety, morals, and the general welfare, encourage the most appropriate use of land, conserve and stabilize the value of property; provide adequate open spaces for light and air, prevent undue concentration of population, and lessen congestion on streets and highways.

Community Development Objectives:

  • Protecting and preserving the open space and farmland of Tioga County.
  • Implementing the Tioga County Comprehensive Plan and its goals and objectives.
  • Promoting development standards that are reflective of the community character.
  • Providing assistance to municipalities in zoning administration and enforcement.
  • Provide the opportunity for shared uses across municipal boundaries.

Factors Considered:  The following factors were considered and districts were developed under the ordinance; Agriculture Production, Resource Protection, Rural Heritage, Rural Industrial, Villages, Towns and Central Business Districts, in additions there are provisions for Commercial and Manufacturing.  We  analyzed and studied the potential impacts of the Interstate 99 corridor and other transportation factors including rail and air. There are sections protecting our dark sky, ag and open space and community character. During the past year we have included in Article 17, which covers Special Exceptions and Conditional Uses, a section on Wind Energy which provides protection to non-participating landowners in the vicinity of Utility Scale Wind Energy Facilities. Based on the pre-emption clause in the Oil & Gas Act of 1984, Natural Gas is not included, however the impacts from Natural Gas development has been considered in the development of this ordinance.

Feedback from Municipalities: There are 39 municipalities including townships and boroughs, 16 of them already have zoning. This zoning ordinance covers the remaining 23 townships and boroughs. Under the Municipality Planning Code of Pennsylvania, Section 602, the county has the authority to zone all those municipalities that do not have a zoning ordinance.  The Planning Commission by formal action has developed this ordinance to apply to all the municipalities in the county that do not have zoning.

We have had varying participation by the townships and boroughs, a majority favor zoning in some form. Some of them have formal Planning Commissions of their own. These Planning Commissions have assisted in reviewing the mapping of the districts and providing feedback on the ordinance. Other townships have actively worked with their residents to provide input for revisions and changes. Others, a minority, have gone on record opposing the ordinance and wishing to opt out.

Recommendations of the Tioga County Planning Commission: It is the planning commission’s recommendation for the Tioga County Board of Commissioners to receive testimony of the public at this open and duly advertised Public Hearing on Zoning knowing full well that we will be gathering information that will guide the planning commission in revising and improving the ordinance. In recent weeks we have been receiving substantive input from all over the County. Based on this response and the need to address factors that have been brought to our attention the following changes to the document have been recommended and are in order:

1.       The sliding scale for limits on subdivision in the Ag Production and Resource Protection Districts needs to be revisited. Our intention is to protect our agricultural lands.

2.       The overly regulatory Article 16 Supplemental Lot Regulations needs over hauled. We have identified the need to reduce the complicated and in some cases duplicative nature of the draft before you. We need to remove the sections that are already covered by the Unified Construction Code and step back from impeding our citizens from living and the quiet enjoyment of their property.

3.       While the dark sky lighting component is important to our rural quality of life and the peaceful nature of our night sky. It has been pointed out on numerous occasions that only a lighting engineer can interpret it.  And while residential development is exempt, we will make it easier to use for the homeowner and farming community.

4.       A set of guidelines in lue of regulations will be recommended for residential, and in some cases, commercial development.

5.       And last, as in any document of this size there are typographic errors that our public and municipal officials have pointed out in their review and reading of the ordinance. We will also improve the user friendliness and refine the table of contents and introduction of each article for navigation and clarity.

 Many of you in the audience have contributed to this input and have asked great questions. For that I and my planning commission Thank You! This is an opportunity to hear your concerns in a formal hearing. We are looking forward to the testimony tonight and wish to encourage everyone to provide us with their views and concerns. I for one, as a department of one, have personally responded to and answered many questions about the important decisions we are faced with and am encouraged by the constructive criticism and words of encouragement received in recent weeks. I will take this important testimony back to my planning commission and anticipate their full attention to making timely improvements.

And finally, Thank you to the Tioga County Board of Commissioners for their patience and attention to this matter.

3/18/09 - Addendum to Report filed as Testimony at Public Hearing on March 11, 2009

The public hearing on 3/11/09 was well attended with 417 people signed in. In addition many people were turned away as the capacity of the courtroom was exceeded.

The hearing was recorded and the court stenographer informed me it will be two weeks from the date of the hearing for the transcript to be completed and delivered.

The input from the public was centered on two main issues: the sliding scale for ag & open space protection in the ordinance. It was clear from the testimony that the public was not clear on, and does not understand, where and how the sliding scale was designed to work. The other issue was the over regulatory and conflicting sections in Article 16 “Supplemental Lot Regulations”

The County Solicitor reviewed the ordinance and had some concerns with the document as presented.

I have received numerous phone calls and talked to many people over the last several weeks, including citizens and municipal officials, on the ordinance. This input has ranged from complete rejection of the concept of zoning to we need something to protect our communities.

Based on the information contained in this testimony and on input received to date my recommendations are as follows:

                1. Improve our outreach and communication with the public.

                2. Clarify the intentions of the Planning Commission on land use.

                3. Consider simplifying the basic structure and coverage of the ordinance.

4.  Explore alternative implementation methods.

3/24/09 - Addendum to County Board of Commissioners at their regular meeting held in Arnot.

The Tioga County Planning Commission at their regular meeting on Wednesday March 18th, 2009 held a discussion and took public comment on the current status of the zoning ordinance. Based on public comment received and the input from the public hearing held on March 11, 2009 the planning commission took no action to certify the ordinance for final review or consideration by the Tioga County Commissioners tonight. The planning commission took the recommendations from the Planning Director, noted above, and will spend some time considering improved outreach and communication, revisions and rewrites to the zoning ordinance. Since there are substantial changes anticipated this will require another public hearing at a later date for the public to have the opportunity to be heard and respond.  It was clear from the input by the County Board of Commissioners and the public that there are necessary changes to the ordinance as presented. At this time there is no action requested by the Planning Commission on the consideration of a Tioga County Zoning Ordinance. We are, however, very interested in input and recommendations from the Board of Tioga County Commissioners.

We thank you for your patience and attention to this matter.