Residents crowd Clay meeting to support farmland

By on April 12, 2017

Ripe for the Harvest Photo by Dick Wanner These soybeans at a farm in Clay Township, Lancaster County, were getting close to harvest time this week.

Urge supervisors to deny rezoning request along Route 322

Bit by bit, acre by acre, Lancaster County residents are seeing their farmland disappear and they aren’t happy about it, many told the Clay Township supervisors Monday evening.

Although no decision was scheduled to be levied, more than 50 local residents attended the Clay Township monthly supervisors’ meeting this week, every one of them asking the supervisors to deny a developer’s request to rezone a parcel of agricultural land to business and residential.

“Some people might say it’s only 23 acres, but that’s how we’re losing farmland, that’s how we’re losing the county; one acre at a time, one farm at a time,” said Dan Sweigart, with the “Respect Farmland” preservation group.

Since 1950, Lancaster County has lost about one-fourth of its farmland, or about 125,000 acres, Sweigart said.

The current issue, called the “Route 322 zoning,” by Chairman Tim Lausch, concerns a 62-acre parcel of land along the Route 322 corridor, east of Snyder Road in Clay Township. The land is owned by Rick Stauffer and is commonly known as the former “Shirk Farm.”

Premier R and G Properties, developers based in Lancaster County, want to change 10 acres of the lot to residential land and rezone another 12 acres for business. That would leave close to 28 acres remaining agricultural.

Jennifer Mejia, of Mejia Law Group, the township’s solicitor, reminded the crowd that no action would be taken at Monday’s meeting.

“This is just the beginning of the process,” Mejia told the visitors.

Decision time comes on May 2 at 7 p.m. when the supervisors will hold a public hearing regarding rezoning the piece of land.

“We’re not making any decisions here tonight,” Lausch said.

Visitors were eager to make sure the supervisors don’t make the wrong decision when the time comes, they said.

Township resident Ralph Kurtz of Durlach Road received applause — twice — from the other visitors during an impassioned plea to the supervisors to deny the rezoning.

“I implore you to do the right thing,” Kurtz said. “I was born in this township and I’ll probably die in this township, so I have a vested interest in this.

“On May 2, you three supervisors will get to decide and your decision will pivot on one person (who wants rezoning). If you do your job as elected officials, you’ll say “no.” The people of this township do not support this. The numbers don’t support this.”

Since 1980, the number of houses in the township has doubled, Kurtz said. At least 15 farms have vanished during that time, he said, subdivided and changed into housing developments and businesses.

“Save our rural heritage; be the people’s hero,” Kurtz said.

Every person who spoke to the supervisors agreed with Kurtz; no rezoning.

Neil Ward, West Earl, cut to the chase, asking everybody who was against the rezoning to raise their hands.

Looking at the show of hands, Ward said, “Look, this is what your community is telling you. They don’t want the land to be rezoned.”

Glenn Hirsh of Clearview Road said he tries to look at each side’s viewpoint: Should the supervisors try to help a growing business — is greed more important than land, Hirsh asked.

“Anyone can develop greed,” Hirsh said.

But Hirsh had made his decision, too, and raised his hand when Ward asked who was against the rezoning.

Mary Haverstick of Manor Township said Clay Township reminds her of how her township looked when she was a child.

“It doesn’t look like that so much now,” Haverstick said. “The people are not happy and it all started with a moment of decision. You have to ask yourselves ‘what do we want Clay Township to be’ and when that moment comes, you must make the right decision. Right now, you have a treasure here.”

Sweigart reminded the supervisors of the presentation made by Karen Martynick, executive director of Lancaster County Farmland Trust, at their March meeting.

Martynick spoke about the value of preservation.

“She was warning the people,” Sweigart said. “What happened in Chester County could happen here — essentially, that county has become a western suburb of Philadelphia.

“It’s not just about looking at the view, enjoying the open spaces,” Sweigart said. “What this is about is the soil. Lancaster County has the most fertile, non-irrigated soil, not only in the United States, but in the world. This is valuable farmland we have here.”

Ralph Kurtz added to his earlier comments, saying he’s spoken with farmers who are trying to eke out a living tilling poor soil mixed with shale on surrounding hills.

Those farmers scoff at officials who willingly give away fertile farmland, Kurtz said.

“They tell me ‘you’re down there, letting them take the best farmland,’ and they can’t believe it, “Kurtz said. “We’ve been very liberal to developers over the years, giving good farmland away.”

Resident Ray Weaver said he was under the impression that Class 1 and Class 2 soils were not allowed to have anything built on the land.

“Whatever happened to that?” Weaver asked.

Township Manager Bruce Leisey replied that they weren’t allowed to comment at this meeting.

Even though she is just 32, resident Jaylene Weaver said it makes her sad to see good land being lost.

“I don’t like to see all the commercial and residential coming in here,” Weaver said. “It’s taking away our farmland and when it’s gone, it’s gone.”

The public is invited to the May 2 hearing, which begins at 7 p.m. in the township office at 870 Durlach Road

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