City could relax development rules | News, Sports, Jobs – Altoona Mirror

Feb 24, 2022

William Kibler

City Council may discuss the possibility of revising the Altoona Planning Code to make it easier for businesses to get approval for development projects, at the suggestion of Councilman Jesse Ickes.

In making the suggestion recently, Ickes invoked details from a city Planning Commission meeting at which developer Jeff Long received a land development permit for a $35 million addition to his recently opened Graystone Grande Palazzo senior housing complex.

The permit included requirements for additional trees, sidewalks, crosswalks, benches and landscaping and changes in the types of trees initially specified by his engineer — along with a requirement for bike racks, if there is a demand for them.

Such “very specific” Planning Code requirements for bike racks and specific trees can potentially “bog down the process” for projects like the Grande Palazzo addition, which involve investments of millions of dollars and which are greatly beneficial to the city, Ickes said.

“I don’t know what the value added is” for such requirements — although clearly it’s better for the city and its residents to have developments that are “aesthetically pleasing,” Ickes said.

The planning code ought to reflect “a common sense approach” — as an antidote to complaints that “it’s hard to do business” in Altoona, he said.

“It’s probably time to go through the Planning Code” to determine whether it ought to be revised, said Councilman Dave Butterbaugh.

The topic would be a good one for a council work session, Ickes said.

Ideally, such a review ought to occur after the city hires a new community development director, said Mayor Matt Pacifico.

The city has made an offer to a candidate for that job, City Manager Omar Strohm said last week.

The candidate hadn’t accepted as of then, he said.

“Altoona needs to make its business climate a little easier,” said Councilman Ron Beatty.

That could include easing rules that cover home renovations, Beatty said.

Council can amend the Planning Code, but generally it cannot review and amend rulings on specific cases by the Planning Commission or Zoning Hearing Board, according to city solicitor Tom Finn.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.

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