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Land Use - Zoning

Myerstown Borough Zoning Ordinance
Official Zoning Map

Municipal planning in Pennsylvania is enabled by a state statue called the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (MPC).  The four most prominent planning tools authorized by the MPC are listed below.  Municipalities are allowed by state law to pick and choose which of these tools they want to use, and free to decide not to use any of them.

Planning Commission.  The planning commission advises the elected governing body concerning physical development in the community.  They provide policy advice on planning for land use regulations, such as zoning and subdivision controls.  They have immense potential influence on the protection, enhancement, and conversion of open spaces in a community.  Myerstown Borough has had a planning commission since 1966

Comprehensive Plan. 
A comprehensive plan is an official public document that serves as a policy guide to decision making about physical development in the community.  It is an explicit statement of future goals for the community and serves as a formal vision for the planning commission, elected officials, and other public agencies, private organizations, and individuals.  The plan provides context and direction for the community's land use ordinances and regulations.  Myerstown Borough published a "mini-comprehensive plan" in 2012

Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance (SALDO). 
Subdivision and land development regulations set up procedures for controlling the dividing of parcels of land, and set standards for creating adequate building sites so that they are adequately served by permanent roads, a pure water supply, and a propert means of waste disposal.  Myerstown Borough does NOT have its own subdivision and land development ordinance.  It is governed by Lebanon County's Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance.

Zoning Ordinance. 
Zoning controls the location of different land uses in a community.  It may also restrict the types of uses to which the land may be put and the intensity of development.  By controlling location, use, and intensity (or density), zoning can have a significant impact on protecting critical features in a community, such as farms, peaceful residential areas, fragile environmental areas, or historical areas.  Myerstown Borough performed a comprehensive rewrite of its zoning ordinance and redrawing of its zoning map in 2017.

Building Regulations
In November of 1999, Act 45 was signed into law creating the first comprehensive statewide building code for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  This legislation is referred to as the Pennsylvania Uniform Construction Code (UCC) and establishes minimum construction standards for virtually all residential and commercial construction activity within Pennsylvania.  Myerstown Borough adopted and incorporated by reference the Pennsylvania UCC in July of 2004.  Administration and enforcement of the code is delegated to the Lebanon County Planning Department (LCPD).

Land Use - Zoning Regulations
The zoning ordinance primarily regulates: a) the uses of land and buildings, and b) the densities of development.  Different types of land uses and different densities are allowed in various zoning districts.  The zoning ordinance also regulates: the distance buildings can be placed from streets and lot lines, the heights and sizes of signs, and the amount of parking that must be provided by new development. 

Land Use
In each zoning district, different uses are allowed or prohibited.  There are three different ways that a use can be allowed:
  1. as a permitted by right use, with the zoning approved by the Zoning Officer,
  2. as a special exception use, with the zoning approved by the Zoning Hearing Board, and
  3. as a conditional use, with the zoning approved by the Borough Council (this is not used in Myerstown).
Intense and potentially controversial uses are permitted as special exception uses.  This results in a public meeting that allows public comment.  The Zoning Hearing Board can carefully review the application to make sure that it meets Borough ordinances.  Also, conditions can be placed upon these types of approvals, such as to protect public safety.

Zoning Map and Zoning Districts
The zoning map was updated in 2017 to carry out the 2012 Mini-Comprehensive Plan, which included a "Future Land Use Plan" map.  

The zoning ordinance primarily regulates new development, expansions of uses and changes in uses.  Under State law, an existing use that was legal when it was first established can continue to operate, regardless of zoning regulations that are later enacted.  An existing legal use that would not be permitted to be newly established under current zoning regulations is known as a “nonconforming use.”  Generally, nonconforming uses can: a) be sold to a new operator, b) be expanded within certain limits, and c) be changed to a different nonconforming use, as long as the new use is not more intense than the old use.

For example, an auto repair garage may have existed before the Borough adopted zoning. It is located in a residential district. It may be changed to a store, which would be less intense. However, it could not be changed to an asphalt plant, which would be more intense.

Likewise, in most cases, existing vacant lots that were legally established may be built upon – even if they do not meet the minimum size requirements of a zoning ordinance. However, any building would still need to meet setback, wetland and floodplain regulations.

However, if a use was not legal when it first started, it has no right to continue.  For example, if a house was illegally converted into apartments twenty years ago, it is still illegal, and can be required to be deconverted. 

 Major Goals and Objectives The following is a summary of relevant goals and objectives from the Borough’s Mini-Comprehensive Plan. 2 Goal: Provide for a compatible and complimentary mixture of land uses, development patterns, and building designs respecting and enhancing the community’s established neighborhoods and other developed areas, in addition to the natural resources, for accommodating residents and businesses.

LDR - Low Density Residential District.  This is the lowest density residential district.  It allows for single family detached houses, and semi-detached (side-by-side) dwellings.  In addition, townhouses are allowed with Zoning Hearing Board approval, provided the lot includes at least one-half acre.  The one-half acre requirement is intended to avoid the demolition of a single family home to build townhouses in the middle of a single family detached block.  A maximum of 4 townhouses can be attached in a row in this district.  Apartments on large lots are not allowed in these areas. 

New churches and other places of worship would need a ½ acre lot in a residential district.  This is to make sure that an individual house on a small lot in the middle of a residential block cannot become a new place of worship.

OT - Old Town Residential District.  This district includes most of the existing residential neighborhoods in the Borough.  A variety of housing types are allowed, with a maximum density of 10 to 14 dwelling units per acre. 

A one family house cannot be allowed to be converted into two or more apartments unless it is an unusually large house (over 3,000 square feet). There is a minimum tract size of 1/3 acre for new apartments, so that they cannot be built on a small lot in the middle of single detached houses.

The Zoning Ordinance provides the Zoning Hearing Board with authority to approve alternative uses in former industrial buildings or schools, churches, rectories, convents and similar non-residential buildings, without needing proof of a hardship.  Those alternative uses could include conversions to apartments, offices, funeral homes and selected other uses.

TMN - Traditional Mixed Neighborhood. The TMN district applies along the length of Main Avenue (except in the center of the downtown) and most of the length of College Street.  It allows a mix of housing types at 12 to 20 housing units per acre.  In addition, these areas are intended to allow low intensity businesses, such as retail sales, office and personal service uses, day care, and bed and breakfast inns.  There could be a storefront business with apartments above.

“Live Work Units” allow a flexible use of business and residential space, provided that the operator of the business lives within the same building area.  A Live Work Unit functions like a homebased business, but without limits on the amount of floor area used for the business. 

The goal is to only allow types of commercial uses that would be good neighbors for nearby residents.  Late night hours of operation are limited for uses that are not already open during late night hours.  Any new late night hours (11 pm to 6 am) would need Zoning Hearing Board approval.

TC - Town Center District.  This district applies to the Downtown segment of Main Avenue and some adjacent segments of College Avenue.  This district allows apartments (except along the first floor street frontage), retail stores, offices, theaters, hotels, recreation uses, restaurants without drive-through service, personal services, funeral homes, day care, and similar uses. 

Auto sales, auto repair, boat sales, car washes, and warehouses are not allowed, except for accessory warehousing.   In any case, existing lawful uses can continue to operate.

New buildings are required to be placed close to the street, with parking located to the side or rear of the building.  The maximum height was raised in 2017 to 5 stories or 70 feet, whichever is more restrictive.

GB - General Business District.  This district includes commercial areas along the Route 422 corridor.  It allows the same uses as Town Center, plus gas stations, vehicle repair, vehicle sales and drive-through restaurants. 

This district includes the former shirt factory complex east of Cherry Street and north of Main Avenue, which is being sold for business uses.

LI - Light Industrial District.  This district mainly includes current industrial lands in the southern part of Myerstown, including the Bayer complex.  It allows offices, warehouses, and almost all types of industrial uses.  However, the heaviest and most intensive industrial are limited to the General Industrial District.

GI - General Industrial District.  The GI District includes lands east of S. Cherry St. and south of E. Richland Ave. The GI District allows all of the same uses as the LI district, plus the heaviest and most intensive industrial uses.  Zoning Hearing Board approval is needed for the most intensive uses. 

CF - Community Facilities District.  This district includes cemeteries, some of the larger churches, and some of the retirement communities.  It mainly allows for institutional uses.  Housing is allowed under the same standards as the Old Town Residential district, except with a higher density and taller height for age-restricted housing.  This district allows for colleges, seminaries, personal care centers, nursing homes and hospices.

CN - Conservation District.  This district includes most of the public parks, plus areas along the Tulpehocken Creek that are within the “100 year floodway.”  The 100 year floodway is the area that is projected to carry the majority of the floodwaters during the worst storm in an average 100 year period. There also are regulations to control the adjacent “100 year flood-fringe,” which is subject to less frequent and more shallow flooding.  New buildings are prohibited in the floodway.