Greencastle expands law on signs and fences

— By PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot
This sandwich board blocks access to an ADA ramp on East Baltimore Street. Under Greencastle’s revised ordinance, such placement is not allowed.

Greencastle Borough Council governed in front of a crowd Monday night, Aug. 3. The majority of the people were interested in the two public hearings prior to adoption of zoning ordinance amendments. Wade Burkholder, Craig Myers, James Farley, Matt Smith, Larry Faight, Charles Eckstine and Frank Webster Jr. unanimously adopted the changes as advertised.

Signage

Stemming from the April Zoning Hearing Board appeal by Sunnyway Foods, in which a variance request for additional signs was rejected, the borough decided to review its policies on signs around town.

Borough manager Susan Armstrong and solicitor Sam Wiser drafted  amendments to Section 205, after input from the Community Development Committee. The Planning Commission added one clause, and the Franklin County Planning Department also took a look at it.

“There has been misinformation out there on what the ordinance is, based on phone calls I have received,” Armstrong said.

She presented a PowerPoint to explain the old and new versions of the sign ordinance. She expected it to alleviate complaints from the public on the current standards. Sandwich boards had become the biggest problem. People reported difficulty navigating wheelchairs around the portable signs, getting to parking meters, limited space for strollers, and damage to opened car doors. Elderly folk also had trouble manuevering around them at curbs and handicap ramps.

The amendments would require sandwich boards to be placed as close to the building facade as feasible. They had to allow a five-foot open walkway.

“We should all use common sense to accomplish clearance for pedestrians,” Armstrong said.

One unidentified man responded that the boards had been a pet peeve for years. He said if he was ever in a wheelchair and a sign was in his way, it wouldn’t be there for long.

Jennifer Robertson asked about the impact on non-profit agencies, specifically churches, that used the signs to advertise their events. Armstrong replied that off-premise signs would not be permitted. In the community commercial district they had to be on the property of the sponsor.

Landlord Duane Kinzer disagreed with the policy. His tenant on Center Square, Rita’s Italian Ice, was tucked into the corner. It used sandwich boards to promote the business. He did not like the tree, parking meters and light poles on his sidewalk.

“If you’re telling me what I can do with my sidewalk, it becomes your sidewalk,” he told council. “The trees should not be there. They are blocking my tenant’s signs.”

Eckstine countered about liability to the borough should anyone be injured because they tripped on a sign on the public sidewalk.

The ordinance also updated standards for awnings; the number, size and placement of signs per business; and legal places to post.

It gave Sunnyway Foods the ability to place its signs as originally requested.

Fences and walls

The second group of proposed changes were also triggered from a Zoning Hearing Board appeal, held in February, in which the applicant was granted the ability to leave a large retaining wall in place. Wording in the old ordinance was ambiguous. Front yard fences had also been banned since 2008, which council wanted reversed.

“Our ordinances are designed to be living documents,” said Armstrong. “They can be changed.”

She and Wiser researched other municipalities and wrote the proposed modifications, which were revised after the Community Development Committee and council reviewed them. The Planning Commission also took a look, and added one small item. The amendment also defined and limited where pawnbrokers could operate in Greencastle, inserted because Armstrong needed it put somewhere in the borough code.

The ordinance was updated with definitions and clarifications on walls and fences; and their allowed placements, heights and zones. Members of the audience expressed support for the measures.

All changes to the Code of the Borough of Greencastle took effect immediately.

Other business

No action was taken, but council will pursue amending the ordinance on repeat offenders of the Property Nuisance Code. Specifically, some people were frequent violators, failing to cut grass, weeds and brush over ten inches. Wiser suggested including fines for repeat offenders of snow removal. The officials expect to levy escalating fees and want the amount to “have bite.” People will first be sent a letter with a deadline to comply.

The board granted a waiver on a Preliminary Plan requirement, and approved the Preliminary/Final Subdivision of Land Plan for Grace United Church of Christ, 136 E. Baltimore St. Bob Schemmerling from RHS Engineering, Inc. explained that in separating the parsonage from the back parking lot, the congregation could sell the house in the future.

South Washington Street residents Doug Barnhart and Paul Runshaw reported that some properties in their neighborhood were unsightly or unsafe, with tall weeds and grass, poor maintenance, and no bannisters on outside steps. Armstrong noted that Greencastle Community Service Officer William Rohrbaugh had already spotted them and was investigating.

Eckstine said, “People have a right to buy property. With that comes a responsibility to maintain it.”

Local contractor William Hudson also addressed council. He wanted to be able to use Commonwealth Code Inspection Services on his projects, which he had done since 2004. However, in May the borough council had authorized only PA Municipal Code Alliance, Chambersburg, and Accredited Services Construction Code Inspection Agency, Waynesboro, to issue building permits.

Hudson said, “I’m very upset about this, I’m telling you.”

Eckstine referred the matter to the Community Development Committee.

Finally, Larry Pittman on West Madison Street had been notified to remove a portable bathroom on his property. He claimed he had received the OK from the borough years ago. He kept it in good order and it was convenient when he worked in his garage.