State College, PA - Centre County - Central Pennsylvania - Home of Penn State University

Homeowner Plans to File Ethics Complaint After Mayor's First Veto

by on July 17, 2012 6:00 AM

State College Borough Council failed to get the five votes needed to overturn Mayor Elizabeth Goreham's veto to stop the rezoning of 323 W. Fairmount Ave. at its regular meeting Monday night.

On July 2, Council passed the zoning request, which would have turned the property from a residential (R2) into a residential office (RO-A) area. That change would have allowed the current homeowner more protections regarding future use of the property.

The R2 designation only allows for rentals only to families and students, whereas a RO-A home can be utilized as an office, among other things.

Susan Venegoni, who owns the property at 323 W. Fairmount Ave. with her husband, Dan Lestz, said they requested the change to protect their home from becoming a student home in the future and align it with the rest of the properties on the block that are RO-A.

Although Goreham signed the veto Friday, her first since taking office in 2010, Venegoni said she didn't find out about the mayor's veto until 10 a.m. Monday, which prompted her appearance at the council meeting. She said the mayor should have recused herself months ago from this particular zoning request because Goreham and her husband own a RO-A property across the street, at 332 W. Fairmount Ave.

Venegoni wanted the veto overturned.

"We feel this is a conflict of interest," she said.

Reading from the mayor's manual, Venegoni said Goreham "must be very careful to avoid a conflict of interest."

"If this veto is to stand I'm going to have no choice but to file an ethics complaint. I think we've had enough policy decisions made by administrators for financial gain," she said, referencing the recently-released Louis Freeh report, which investigated Penn State's handling of reports Jerry Sandusky's child sexual abuse.

Meanwhile, the mayor has the student-home designation on her property, which "never dies," Venegoni said.

"If the family that lives there now and she wanted to move out, there's nothing to stop her. She says she doesn't want to (rent to students) and I believe her, but as long as she has that designation, it makes her house more valuable, it will sell much more quickly and it is, without a doubt that an investor will buy it because there are only 94 student homes in the borough."

"There's a lot more to it, but we've been fighting this battle for eight months," she said.

After the meeting concluded, Goreham said she and her husband plan to drop the student home designation from their property.

"We'd be happy to renounce that," she said. "Maybe it will set a trend for other people who are in neighborhoods to do the same."

Goreham said it is important to have cohesion in neighborhoods and keep them family-friendly.

However, she said she didn't understand the ethical issue brought before her because she doesn't "personally benefit" from the veto.

"It's a difficult situation, it's a stressed neighborhood," Goreham said, citing reasons she used her veto power.

Other issues in the hour-long Borough Council meeting included:

  • Council approved parking changes to Calder Way
  • Tabled a rezoning request for 254 E. Nittany Ave. and 410 Locust Ln. by a 6-0 vote.

Laura Nichols is a news reporter and @LC_Nichols on Twitter.
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