By Peggy Palmer
Easton, PA – January 28, 2020. A large and concerned group of Easton residents met Tuesday evening to discuss a series of major zoning ordinance changes proposed by Easton’s administration. The meeting, organized by fourth-generation Easton resident Peggy Palmer, considered several topics in the City’s 260-page draft ordinance, which is available online at https://www.easton-pa.com/sites/eastonpa/files/uploads/595_zoning_rewrite_12_27_19.pdf .
Some of the significant changes considered by the group were these:
• Unlike most communities in the United States and around the world, which are seeking to become more conscious of environmental matters, Easton proposes to increase its carbon footprint by allowing more paving and building area (“Impervious Coverage”) in most of the City, including its River Corridor, Lafayette College, College Hill, South Side and West Ward zoning districts.
• The City proposes to remove many of the provisions in its award-winning “Context Sensitive Design Standards,” such as requiring lot sizes and building designs “to maintain consistency of neighborhood structure.”
• Many new uses are being proposed for different parts of Easton, such as warehouses and parking garages in the River Corridors, and Congregate Housing in the South Side and West Ward. The ordinance defines Congregate Housing as “Any building or portion thereof that contains facilities for living, sleeping and sanitation, and may include facilities for eating and cooking for occupancy by other than a Family as defined herein. A congregate residence shall be permitted to be a shelter, convent, monastery, but does not include jails, hospitals, nursing homes, hotels or lodging houses.” That doesn’t seem to explain very well what the City had in mind when it included this use in two entire neighborhoods.
• A big topic was the City’s proposal to allow 3-story Multifamily dwellings in most parts of College Hill as “Permitted Use.” As of now, Multifamily dwellings can only be 2-stories, and would only be allowed after a “Special Exception” review process to determine if they are appropriate for a particular location. The new zoning would allow taller buildings, conversion of private homes for up to four apartment units, and would eliminate the review process.
• Finally, many questions were asked about the process that led to this zoning proposal, who wrote it and what are their qualifications, why did the City not use a planning consultant and input from residents as it has in the past, and why has it failed to provide a summary of the proposed changes and what the planning strategy behind them might be. There were no answers to any of these questions. A copy of the complete presentation shown at the meeting can be found at ps://www.eastonpost.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Zoning-presentation-1.28.20-PDF.pdf.