The New Kensington Planning Commission has recommended approval of the proposed new “Design Guidelines” and “Overlay Districts” for the city.
Just about half a dozen people attended Tuesday’s commission meeting, where Your Towne adviser Barb Ciampini gave an overview of the proposal. Many of the following questions and comments, posed primarily by downtown real estate owner Emil Hanulik Jr., focused on mural regulation.
Hanulik said he has allowed a mural to be painted on one of his buildings but has concerns about the content and style of some of them, as well as ownership, liability and responsibility issues.
While the design guidelines include a document on best practices for creating murals, a formal review and approval process is not yet part of it. City Engineer Tony Males said these would be developed before the proposal goes to City Council, which will hold a public hearing before voting on approval.
The earliest council that could consider the proposal is July, Males said. The city must give Westmoreland County officials 30 days to review them first.
“I am excited, along with the council, to have the opportunity to review the design guidelines,” said Mayor Tom Guzzo. “With this tremendous revitalization happening across the city, I am encouraged that these guidelines will continue to enhance development and provide an overview and will also be a resource for new businesses looking to open in New Kensington.”
As explained by Ciampini, the aim of the design guidelines is to encourage design excellence in the private development of new multi-family, mixed-use and commercial projects in the city.
They address landscaping, buffering, parking, garage placement, building-to-street ratio, sidewalk traffic, fencing, lighting, dumpster placement, and signage.
They also address building design compatibility such as scale, proportions and mass, window pattern and shape, roof shape, building materials and facade features.
Development, signage and facade improvement projects would need to be reviewed by city officials before going to the Planning Commission and City Council.
Three overlay districts – Historic, River and Design – would be created.
The Historic District, which refers to downtown, is designed to promote, preserve, and protect historic buildings, structures, sites, and neighborhoods that commemorate the city’s heritage.
Buildings in the area would have to go through a design review process for any exterior changes.
The river basin along the Allegheny River is designed to connect the riverfront and protect views from the river or its banks. It is intended to provide the opportunity to create new development projects that allow public access to the river and are pedestrian friendly in design and scale.
“New Kensington needs to look for a great development along the riverfront that may not always be as industrial as it was, but perhaps as it should be with the people who live there,” Ciampini said.
The planning commission’s vice-chairman, Garry Garrison, echoed this, saying that New Kensington will never be the same again, but that it can be better than it is.
“There are solutions to everything if you want to look for them,” he said.
Citywide rules proposed
The design review district would apply to the entire city.
It is designed to ensure appropriate landscaping, movement of people and vehicles, sidewalks, building orientation, and architecture that conforms to guidelines for visible exterior improvements. It would apply to residential, non-residential, or multi-family properties, garages, and other structures.
The city is also considering an artistic decal program to cover vacant storefronts with something other than plywood.
“New Kensington already has community pride,” said Ciampini. “We hope this process will increase pride in the City of New Kensington. When everyone communicates and works together, New Kensington becomes a place for people to live, work and play.”