N. TOWANDA TWP. - At a public hearing on Wednesday, a half-dozen residents from the Hillcrest Drive area of North Towanda Township complained about problems in their neighborhood, including groups of unrelated people living together in homes, a long, unsightly trailer that has become an eyesore, and Doberman pinchers barking at night.

"I'm concerned about the real estate values of homes" in the neighborhood, said Hillcrest Acres resident Marian Feathers. "It's deteriorating the neighborhood to have some of these things going on."

The purpose of the public hearing was to get input from the public on a proposed large-scale update to North Towanda Township's zoning ordinance, and the residents asked if some of the issues could be addressed by changing the ordinance.

Specifically, Hillcrest Drive resident Robert Murphy asked whether the definition of "family" in the proposed ordinance could be changed, so that only people who are related to each other would be allowed to live together in single-family homes in the neighborhood.

"We have tribes" of unrelated people living together in single-family homes, Murphy said. They may all work for the same gas company or work together in a factory, he said.

Hillcrest Drive resident Anne Marie Murphy said she was concerned about the Crandall residence on Hillcrest Drive, where there are unrelated people living together who come and go in shifts.

Neighbors complained about Doberman pinchers on the Crandall property, and a 50- to 60-foot trailer that is parked in on property's driveway, saying it has become an eyesore to the neighborhood.

The members of the Crandall family do not live at the residence, but rent it to the occupants, the neighbors said.

Under the current zoning ordinance, up to five unrelated people can live together in a single-family home, and under the proposed updated ordinance, up to four unrelated people can live together in a single-family home, township zoning officer township zoning officer Gerald Sheets said.

Linda Mackie, chairman of the North Towanda Planning Commission, said the commission had already looked into whether the definition of "family" could be changed in the way Murphy would like to see it changed.

However, after consulting with the township's solicitor, Jonathan Foster Sr., the planning commission decided not to pursue the matter, She said the township has to be very careful on how it defines "family," so as not to discriminate against people.

But Murphy said that the concerns about discrimination probably had to do with gay people living together, and he said the issue he is concerned with has nothing to do with gay people. It simply has to do with unrelated people who are living together, such as a group of people who work in the same workplace, he said.

Mackie then told Murphy that the Planning Commission would look again at whether the definition of "family" could be reworked, in order to address Murphy's concerns.

"We will take it under advisement and see what we can do with that," Mackie said.

Jonathan Foster Jr., the solicitor for the Planning Commission, said he would also look into whether the zoning ordinance could be changed to address the long trailer.

Township Supervisor David Brubaker said: "I'm concerned about the size of the trailer. When you allow things like that, you have to look at what's next. It's at the point of being an eyesore."

Foster also said that if people are using the Crandall residence in shifts, there could be a violation of the existing zoning ordinance, since no more than five unrelated people can live together in a single-family residence.

Bradford County Planning Director Ray Stolinas noted that any changes made in the zoning ordinance to address the issues brought up at the public hearing would not apply to existing conditions in the neighborhood, such as the way a particular home is currently rented out.

The changes to the ordinance could only be used to correct a violation of the ordinance that would occur in the future, he said.

"You can't use the ordinance to go back and correct" problems that had already been in existence, one official said.

The township supervisors will hold another public hearing on the proposed update to the zoning ordinance at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 18 at the North Towanda Township municipal building. Immediately after the June 18 public hearing, the township supervisors are scheduled to vote on enacting the proposed amendments to the zoning ordinance, according to a public notice from the township.

James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: jloewenstein@thedailyreview.com.