A revamping of Luzerne County’s zoning ordinance is in the works and should be presented to county council for its consideration this summer, according to county Planning/Zoning Executive Director James Ferry.
This will be the first full update of the 98-page ordinance since it took effect in the 1960s, Ferry said.
“They made modifications before, but never this comprehensive. We are undergoing a review from page 1 to the end,” said Ferry, who was hired to oversee the office in April 2016.
The zoning ordinance regulates where various types of structures may be located and sets construction parameters in 22 municipalities that opted for county coverage.
These municipalities: Avoca, Courtdale, Dupont, Duryea, Hughestown, Jeddo, Laflin, Luzerne, New Columbus, Pringle, Warrior Run, West Wyoming, Wyoming and Yatesville boroughs, and Conyngham, Fairmount, Hunlock, Huntington, Lake, Newport, Ross and Union townships.
Some anticipated ordinance revisions had been recommended by an outside consultant that completed the Lackawanna-Luzerne Regional Plan in 2012, which focused on long-term planning and development, Ferry said.
Additional potential amendments surfaced after the county planning/zoning office and county Planning Commission board started discussing ideas for changes last year, he said.
The update will address development in flood zones and limitations and protocol for medical marijuana facilities, he said.
Adjustments for signs and outdoor advertisements also may be included, he said.
Ferry declined to elaborate on specifics, saying all proposed changes will be publicly unveiled when they are presented to county council.
His office had initially projected the package of proposed amendments would be presented to council in the first quarter of 2017.
Before leaving office in January, prior county councilman Rick Williams had repeatedly pushed for a comprehensive zoning ordinance review conducted by outside planning consultants.
Williams said he appreciates the Planning Commission’s willingness to take on the task, but he worries the board of volunteer citizens won’t have the time, expertise and access to data needed to develop a progressive package of changes guiding development for decades.
The goal, Williams said, should be a uniform zoning ordinance that is attractive for adoption by all of the county’s 76 municipalities, even if some opt to continue handling their own zoning administration.
Prospective developers and design professionals shouldn’t have to keep as many as 55 different zoning ordinances on their computers or bookshelves to research potential economic development projects in the county, he said.
Williams also believes a companion update of the county’s subdivision/land development ordinance should be completed with the zoning update.
“Uniformity would make Luzerne County very attractive to potential developers and individuals who want to move here for good economic development and quality of life issues,” Williams said.
Ferry said the current focus is on zoning, but subdivision/land development changes may be considered later.
County Manager C. David Pedri said a uniform county zoning ordinance would “really be a step in the right direction,” but convincing the 54 remaining municipalities to adopt it would be a challenge. Pedri said he will keep the idea among future county goals.
County council would have to allocate funds for an outside consultant to update the ordinance because that expense was not included in the 2018 budget, Pedri said.
In addition to the director, the planning/zoning office employs a clerk, planner, two planning and zoning analysts and a transportation planner, Pedri’s position budget shows.
Pedri said he’s optimistic the staff and Planning Commission can come up with a comprehensive update.
Council Chairman Tim McGinley said he looks forward to reviewing the proposal and noted council members also may have recommendations.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.