New Kensington planners recommend approval of new city design guidelines

The New Kensington Planning Commission has recommended approval of new “design guidelines” and proposed “overlapping wards” for the city.

Only half a dozen people attended Tuesday’s committee meeting, where Your Towne consultant Barb Ciampini gave an overview of the proposal. Many of the questions and comments that followed, posed largely by Downtown owner Emil Hanulik Jr., centered on mural regulations.

Hanulik said he had given permission for a mural to be painted on one of his buildings, but was concerned about the content and style of some of them, as well as ownership issues, responsibility and responsibility.

Although the design guidelines include a best practices document 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 first council could consider the proposal in July, Males said. The city must give Westmoreland County officials 30 days to review it first.

“I and council are delighted to have the opportunity to review the design guidelines,” Mayor Tom Guzzo said. “With this great revitalization happening across the city, I am encouraged that these guidelines will continue to enhance development and provide insight and also be a resource for new businesses looking to open in New Kensington.”

Design guidelines

As Ciampini explained, the aim of the design guidelines is to encourage design excellence in the private development of new multi-family, mixed-use and commercial residential projects in the city.

They deal with landscaping, buffer zone, parking, location of garages, relationship between buildings and streets, sidewalk traffic, fencing, lighting, location of dumpsters and signage.

They also deal with building design compatibility, such as scale, proportions and massing, window patterns and shape, roof shape, building materials and facade features.

Plans for landscaping, signage and facade improvements should go through city staff for review before being forwarded to the planning commission and city council.

Layered quarters

Three superimposed districts – historic, river and design – would be created.

The historic district, applying to the city center, aims to promote, preserve and protect the buildings, works, sites and historic districts that recall the heritage of the city.

Buildings in the area should go through a design review process for exterior changes.

The river district, along the Allegheny River, is intended to connect the riverside and to protect the view from the river or its banks. It aims to foster new development projects designed to provide public access to the river and be pedestrian-friendly in design and scale.

“New Kensington must seek to find a large development along the river that is not always industrial ‘as it was’, but perhaps ‘as it should be’ with the people who live there,” Ciampini said.

Planning commission vice-chairman Garry Garrison echoed that, saying New Kensington will never be the same again, but it can be better than it is.

“There are solutions to everything if you want to look for them,” he said.

Suggested city-wide rules

The design review district would apply city-wide.

It aims to ensure adequate landscaping, movement of people and vehicles, sidewalks, orientation of buildings and architecture in accordance with the guidelines for any visible exterior improvements. It would apply to residential, non-residential or multi-family sites, garages and other structures.

The city is also considering an art decal program to cover vacant storefronts with something other than plywood.

“New Kensington already has community pride,” Ciampini said. “We hope this process will increase the pride of the town of New Kensington. With everyone communicating and collaborating, New Kensington will become a destination where people can live, work and play.

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Brian at 724-226-4701, brittmeyer@triblive.com or via Twitter .

Abdul J. Gaspar