The Sayre borough planning commission Tuesday began the process of making recommendations regarding a series of proposed changes to the borough's zoning ordinance.

The commission, tasked with reviewing and commenting on the ordinance prior to the borough council's vote on the proposed changes, discussed each proposed change Tuesday but did not vote to make any final recommendations.

The commission will meet again at 7 p.m. Feb. 19 after taking into account input from borough solicitor Jonathan Foster, who drafted the ordinance on direction from the council's administration committee, and over 20 concerned citizens in attendance at Tuesday's meeting.

Foster said he was directed to draft the proposed changes to correct areas where parcels lack compliance with their current uses. "That's how you begin the process," he said.

Foster said he took into account concerns from borough officials, code enforcement, and the borough's history of zoning hearings to make his determinations.

The administration committee recommended the changes be reviewed by the full council, which voted 7-2 in January to continue the process. The proposal was then forwarded to the borough and county planning commissions for comment, and a public hearing on the proposed changes is scheduled for 6 p.m. Feb. 28.

Many of the proposed changes are at odds with recommendations made by the commission, which were submitted last summer and never reviewed by council, said planning commission chairperson Barbara Ault.

The proposed changes are "opening up these areas and making it easier for those who have non-conforming uses now," Ault said. "I don't understand what we gain by this."

The changes, Ault added, would possibly reduce the number of zoning hearings required for nonconforming uses, taking away some control of what comes into the borough.

Commission members suggested re-examining the proposed change of North Lehigh Avenue from light commercial to multi-family residential, saying the zone's setback requirements combined with lot sizes on the street make the change impractical.

Members also suggested renaming the conservation district to "public use" to better indicate the parcels located in that zone, mainly schools and parks. Officials have proposed that Epiphany School on Stevenson Street be rezoned to conservation.

Citizens in attendance continued to express frustration with the proposed expansion of the medical campus designation to Hayden and Chemung streets north of South Wilbur Avenue. Many of the parcels on those streets are already owned by Guthrie, Foster said, and the expansion allows them room to expand, although Guthrie officials have recently stated there are no plans to do so at this time.

Future expansion of the campus would create more high-income jobs, part of the borough's 2008 comprehensive plan, Foster said.

Most of the properties Guthrie owns in the area are rented out as residential properties, making the change unnecessary at this time, commission members said.

Many citizens, skeptical of Guthrie's statements, expressed their concerns that continued expansion of the medical campus would result in undesired medical uses in residential neighborhoods, loss of the area's character, population loss and a reduction in tax revenues.

Citizens also stated their displeasure with the proposed changes being established without resident input. "I don't like the way the council did this," said resident Robert Diltz. "I think it's underhanded."

Ault encouraged those in attendance to express their opinions to council members at the Feb. 28 public hearing. While the commission gives recommendations, the council will make the final decision on whether to adopt the changes, she said.

Areas to be rezoned under the proposed changes include:

- the Enterprise Center property on South Elmer Avenue, from industrial to business incubator district.

- properties owned by Jeffrey Agnew on Lake Street and College Hill, from single-family residential to light commercial.

- Hayden and Chemung streets from South Wilbur Avenue to, but not including, the St. John's Lutheran Church property, from multi-family residential to medical campus.

- South Thomas Avenue from East Hayden Street to the borough's public works building, from light commercial to downtown commercial.

- properties on the south side of Lockhart Street between South Elmer and South Wilbur avenues, from single-double family residential to downtown commercial.

- properties on South Elmer Avenue from Packer Avenue to Lockhart Street, including the Sayre Public Library, Rock Your Style salon and the hospital parking lot next to CVS Pharnacy, from single-double family residential to downtown commercial.

- Parcels on Hospital Place from single-double family residential to medical campus.

- the First Citizens Community Bank parcel on Lockhart Street, from single-double family residential to downtown commercial.

- Epiphany School on Stevenson Street, from single-family residential to conservation.

- the west side of Lehigh Avenue from Cross Street to Mohawk Street, from light commercial to multi-family residential.

- the properties at the intersection of Lehigh Avenue, Spring and Mohawk streets, from light commercial to highway commercial.

- the east side of Spring Street, from industrial to highway commercial.

- the west side of Spring Street, from light commercial to highway commercial.

- the Guthrie pediatric center and the Sayre Health Care Center on North Elmer Avenue, from light commercial to medical campus.

- the Sayre Theatre, the Sayre First Presbyterian Church and a residence on the corner of Elmer and Packer avenues, from light commercial to downtown commercial.

- the Greater Valley EMS property on North Lehigh Avenue, from light commercial to highway commercial.

Amanda Renko can be reached at (570) 888-9652; or email: arenko@thedailyreview.com.