Tyrone to look at zoning ordinance regarding handicapped access issues

Tyrone Borough Council has decided to take a look at its zoning ordinance as it relates to handicapped access issues.
The move stems from a discussion that happened near the end of the council meeting earlier this week. Councilman Bill Fink expressed concern over a recent decision by the Tyrone Zoning Hearing Board.
Fink told The Daily Herald, “I was just disturbed at the fact that we have a building that is not handicapped accessible and we had a request to make it handicapped accessible. I don’t think the request was unreasonable.”
Fink was referring to a request made by Puff-N-Snuff store owner Paul Mahoney. He went before the board in April to seek a variance so he could construct a ramp along 10th Street and connect to a landing at the store’s entrance. Mahoney made his case before the hearing board after working with the borough and PennDOT regarding the ramp. He also brought his concerns before council at a March 13 meeting.
The store had become a Pennsylvania Lottery retailer in 2005 and had been given one year to address Americans with Disability Act issues. The Lottery now requires new retailers to make provisions to allow access for the handicapped. The agency provides financial assistance for retailers to make the upgrades. Mahoney was unable to comply by the deadline and his lottery sales have been suspended.
PennDOT had told Mahoney that they did not have an issue with the ramp being constructed. The borough told Mahoney he would need the variance because the ramp would cross two property lines. Setback issues were also a concern since most businesses in the downtown area were built before current zoning requirements for a 15-foot setback in that area went into effect. Outside additions to the building would require a variance.
The Zoning Hearing Board denied Mr. Mahoney’s request for the variance on April 17. Mahoney has 30 days to appeal the decision to the Blair County Court of Common Pleas. Shortly after the board’s decision, Mahoney said he did plan to appeal.
At Monday’s meeting, Fink asked if council could overturn the Zoning Hearing Board’s decision. Solicitor Larry Clapper informed him that council could not overturn the board’s decision.
Clapper described the board as “quasi-legal” and as such they rule or interpret the laws or codes of the borough regarding zoning. He pointed out that council’s role is to make codes and ordinances and they do have the right to make amendments or pass new ones. Clapper also said the borough also had the right to join Mahoney in an appeal to the Blair County Courts.
Fink told The Daily Herald, “My concern here is the handicapped. What’s the big deal here (in) making facilities accessible for someone who needs assistance to get into it? I don’t have a problem with that.”
Fink noted the borough’s municipal building had been granted a variance for ADA access. He said most buildings in downtown Tyrone are handicapped accessible. Fink added he had received a phone call informing him of at least one constituent who said the lack of handicapped accessibility at the store limits his shopping choices.
During the council meeting, Councilwoman Virgie Werner said the municipal building’s ADA issues and the ramp issue for Mahoney’s business couldn’t be compared since the municipal building is a public government building while Mahoney operates a private business.
Fink also told council that other options such as building the ramp inside of the store weren’t practical since the store’s facility is too small. He said he had done a visual inspection in and around the building. He said an inside ramp would also create another problem since the door would have to be at street level in the flood plain. Fink added that after inspecting the condition of the sidewalk he thought, “a ramp might even look nicer.”
Code enforcement officer Tom Lang suggested council take a look at the zoning ordinance while the borough is working on updating its comprehensive plan.
Council ultimately decided to look at the zoning ordinance as it relates to handicapped accessibility issues. Fink, Werner, Bill Latchford, Steve Hanzir and Mayor Jim Kilmartin voted for the motion while council members Don Boytim, Jennifer Bryan and Jim Grazier voted against it.