Zoning proposal gets mixed reviews in Rush Township

Zoning has been proposed for Rush Township, but some residents are not enthusiastic about it.

At a hearing Thursday, the township supervisors heard plans for the new ordinance being proposed by the municipality’s Planning Commission.

“Zoning is the only legal way for local governments to specify what land uses can occur,” said engineer Michelle Merrow.

The ordinance details 12 designations for areas in what is geographically the second largest township in Pennsylvania. Those range from low-density residential uses to commercial and industrial applications.

The major sector, public or semipublic use, reflects the large amount of state-owned land, including Black Moshannon State Park.

Merrow said that all current uses, regardless of zoning, would be grandfathered. A business in what is currently a residential area would be allowed to continue, and even rebuild or expand if appropriate. The zoning would only affect future uses. She also specified that the law strictly addresses land use, and does not delve into other aspects that some zoning laws in other areas govern, like micromanaging the types of lighting that can be used or the hours that a business may operate.

Those reassurances were not enough for some.

“I don’t like restrictions,” said Jackie Lewis.

The measure could be used to stop projects that have been just as unpopular, like landfills and halfway houses. But Matt Walker, a dissenting member of the Planning Commission, doesn’t think it’s necessary.

“We are rural country people. We don’t want to be like State College,” he said. “I think we’re going after zoning to keep something out. You successfully kept a landfill out without zoning.”

According to Merrow, 26 of 35 municipalities in Centre County have zoning, including adjacent Philipsburg and townships like Snow Shoe and Walker.

After the hearing, the next step is for the supervisors to decide whether they want to adopt the ordinance, reject it or return it to the Planning Commission for more work. The board seems to have very different opinions.

Supervisor Mike Savage has been in touch with other municipalities about their experiences and said he has found “in effect, virtually no cost to implementing.” Supervisor Jack Shannon would like to see the ordinance simplified, cutting the dozen areas into just a few more general ones. But Pat Couturiaux is adamant in his opposition and how he wants to see it resolved.

“There shouldn’t be any reason why we can’t have a referendum and a vote,” he said.

But solicitor Dave Mason said there is a reason. The adoption process is prescribed by state law.

“I don’t even know that (a referendum) would be legal,” he said.