State law does not allow citizens to challenge zoning decisions, which effectively nixes a Bethel Park petition drive to challenge a zoning change that will likely bring a gas station to Cool Springs Drive.

American Natural, which owns a local chain of gas stations and convenience stores, wants to build at a site near Cool Springs Sports Complex, but it needed that area to be rezoned commercial to do so.

Bethel Park council voted 5-3 in July to rezone that area, ratifying an earlier decision from the zoning hearing board.

The decision sparked opposition from several residents who live near the site and they started circulating a petition to have voters decide the matter through a ballot question.

Bethel Park’s home rule charter allows citizens to challenge most ordinances. To do so, a group of citizens must circulate a petition and if enough people sign it, then voters will have the final say through a referendum in the next election.

However, the state Municipal Planning Code does not allow such challenges when it pertains to land use and zoning. Municipal officials cited several cases, some dating to the 1970s, in which referendum efforts in other home rule municipalities in Pennsylvania were struck down in court, due to the state law that supersedes home rule charters, at least as it applies to zoning.

Tim Enright, one of the residents leading the petition drive, said at the Sept. 9 council meeting it appears the challenge effort is for naught.

However, he urged those who disagree with the zoning change to contact council members to complain and to attend the Oct. 7 zoning hearing board meeting to voice concerns about the decision.

Those who oppose the gas station claim it will pose potential health risks, create traffic problems and cause property values to plummet.

Council members who voted in favor of the decision said they did so because the area is already commercially developed and a gas station would blend in well near one of largest sports complexes in the Pittsburgh area, a shopping center, restaurant and Lowe’s home improvement store.

In another matter, the board voted to refinance about $12.3 million in bonds that were originally floated in 2015 to build the public works building. Interest rates are lower now, so Bethel Park stands to save about $500,000 by refinancing. The exact amount of the won’t be known until the bonds are issued, but council members said that the municipality would take the windfall in a lump sum and use it for various capital projects.

Council approved an agreement with the state Department of Transportation to install wheelchair accessible ramps at the intersection of Route 19 and Highland Drive. The cost to the municipality will be about $3,537.

Councilman Jim McLean reminded voters of two ballot questions that will appear on the Nov. 5 general election ballot proposing changes to the home rule charter. Both questions concern waiving the residency requirements for the municipal planner and financial director positions.

The home rule charter requires the chief planner and financial director to live in Bethel Park. However, several council members voiced concerns that requirement might needlessly reduce the field of potential applicants.

Residency requirements for the municipal manager and the chief of police would remain.


See what people are talking about at The Community Table!