OC Business Files Appeal of City’s Fence Request, Gets Council Support

| August 12, 2015

gahr-excavating[1]OIL CITY, Pa. (EYT) – An Oil City businessman angered by the city’s request that he put a fence around his business has filed an appeal to the city’s zoning hearing board. He’s also received support from some members of city council.

Leo Gahr of Gahr’s Excavating told exploreVenango.com he filed the appeal on August 7.

“I guess we have to wait on the appeal. They told me we had until August 18 to file, and we did, but I haven’t heard anything since,” Gahr said.

At issue is compliance with zoning ordinance 28:22, which states a contractor’s storage area is to be “fully screened from sight with an architectural screen.”

While Gahr insists his lot is a display rather than a storage area, city officials have asked him to comply with the ordinance.

“That is our display lot. We display our machines and our products we sell like gravel, limestone, topsoil, and firewood. We do not want a fence blocking it off,” Gahr said.

Some council members have expressed support for Gahr.

Oil City Councilman Isaiah Dunham told exploreVenango.com he agrees the Gahr Excavating property isn’t a storage area.

“What Gahr Excavating has out there I consider more of a showroom, with gravel, mulch, and dirt, and it’s showing off his product. I don’t consider this a necessity to have a fence,” Dunham said.

This is the first time the city has ever made this type of request of the business, Gahr said.

“We’ve been here for 13 years now and never once been cited by the city or anybody for anything. The fire department comes around and does inspections and tells us what we need to do to meet code, and we do it. We’re proud of our place and do a good job,” Gahr said.

Gahr said the city didn’t send him a letter but instead a description of a contracting business.

“We don’t fall under that. We don’t store anything here. Anything we need to store we put in our big warehouse, and we get rid of scrap immediately,” Gahr said.

Dunham said Gahr’s appeal to the Zoning Hearing Board is the proper way to address the issue.

“Mr. Gahr’s appeal will go to the Zoning Hearing Board, and he’ll get to make his case and go from there, and that would be the best way to handle it. I would hope in this case there would definitely be compromise between the Zoning Hearing Board and Mr. Gahr,” Dunham said.

Singled Out?

Gahr said he believes the zoning ordinance is being unfairly used against him while other businesses and even city blight go without remediation.

“The gas company has the same thing we do, backhoes, tractors, piles of gravel, but they also have piles of scrap pipe out in the open where everyone can see it. Oil City Industrial Park has motorcycles and bicycles sitting against the fence, old scrap pipe, and the grass isn’t mowed. How can the city come to me and say ‘you have to clean up your site,’ and they don’t do it?” Gahr said.

Dunham said zoning is designed to eliminate issues like these, and that no business or individual is being targeted.

“If Mr. Gahr feels singled out, that’s not the intention here. The zoning officer is trying to approach everything to the best of his ability with what the ordinance says. I’m extremely glad the zoning officer is not picking and choosing. What I think we’re seeing here is a flaw inside the zoning ordinance as a whole. We need to look at the flaws and make it better,” Dunham said.

Dunham said it may be time to open the zoning ordinance for other reviews as well.

“I definitely believe there should be something with the zoning ordinance to see what definitions need to be added. There are a lot of things I believe personally are kind of left up in the air. I’m not sure what the definition is trying to get at in this case, so I think we should reopen the zoning ordinance,” Dunham said.

Rights-of-Way and School Buses

Gahr doesn’t want his business property behind a fence for reasons beyond displays. He says two other entities hold rights-of-way bisecting his property, preventing a fence in those areas.

“The railroad has a railway through the center of our lot and comes between our garage and our warehouse, and we can’t build anything on top of it. The city also has a sewage right-of-way going the opposite direction across our lot. We can’t build on that, either,” Gahr said.

Gahr estimates the railroad has a 40 feet right-of-way, and the sewage line has a 25 feet right-of-way. The property the city wants fenced in is estimated at 200 feet by 100 feet.

Dunham said this is an issue best handled by the city’s Zoning Hearing Board.

“I’m not sure if they or the zoning officer knows how to handle that. It might be a good question for the zoning hearing board’s legal counsel,” Dunham said.

Gahr is also concerned for a nearby property owner who doesn’t have street access to their property and uses his property to go to and from home.

“Two elderly people live there and have an ambulance there at least once a week. One of them goes for dialysis. How will they do that if I have to put up a fence and block their access?” Gahr said.

Gahr also allows school buses to use his lot as a place to turn around, but says that won’t be possible with a fence in place.

“Twelve school buses per day turn around here, from Cranberry and Oil City and the YMCA, and I’m absolutely okay with that, but if we have to put up a fence, they can’t do it,” Gahr said.

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