Rezoning still shaping Clay

By on November 6, 2013

By:

MICHELE WALTER FRY Review Correspondent

, Staff Writer

At the joint meeting of Clay Township’s zoning board and board of supervisors Oct. 28, two hours of testimony was heard on the possible rezoning of an 850-foot-wide stretch of land that spans three farms along the Route 322 corridor west of Ephrata. But as promised, the proposal is in its infancy.

Gwen Newell, Sr. Commission Planner, Lancaster County Planning Commission, said they’ve had their input and are comfortable with Clay Township’s planning process of analyzing if they are able to have commercial growth.

"The other issue is this area along 322 has public utilities; it has public water, sewer and a transportation network," Newell said. "The township is analyzing and trying to figure out the best way to deal with access management for transportation, so they’re not doing this in a bubble. We’re basically trying to find a balance between agricultural preservation but also sustaining our economy – not increasing the cost of your water, not increasing the cost of your sewer.

"We need to grow where the infrastructure is already paid for and that’s one of the things Clay Township is analyzing when they are considering this option," she continued. "The LCPC does feel that Clay Township has done a good job in planning and trying to analyze all the different options with regard to what should be zoned where."

Newell said that while Clay’s Comprehensive Plan has not been updated recently, it has a lot of "solid concepts."

"It wants to preserve agriculture, it wants to provide for an adequate amount of businesses to sustain your economy. It actually includes the development of urban and village growth areas which a lot of the earlier Comp Plans did not include," she said. "While the date of your Comp Plan is old, the concepts in it are good."

More than 70 attended the meeting and applause often followed after testimony was given against the rezoning.

"How many red lights are we going to be looking at on this corridor? Do we want this corridor of 322 to look like the Murrell area where the traffic is backed up from the square in Ephrata all the way down to Wal-Mart?" Ann Weaver asked.

Bob Lynn, P.E., Hanover Engineering, said the idea of the proposed zoning district is to limit access to Route 322 to provide for this type of development and internalization of traffic so the traffic would move from the properties and not on 322.

"We’re looking probably at one main intersection between the three properties and possibly some right-ins and some right-outs, but I’m not looking at a whole host of a number of intersections along there as a result," stated Lynn.

Tim Lausch, chairman of the supervisors, questioned Lynn, "How do you feel you could safely say that it won’t back up?"

"I can’t because at this point we don’t know what type of development, if any, we’re building there. It’s still in its infancy," responded Lynn.

A strong sense of community was present at the meeting with neighbors and old friends rooting for each other after each testimony was offered.

"Do we realize what we have right here in Lancaster County in Clay Township? To rezone these farms for what you’re proposing, to me, it’s like selling your soul because the farms are the souls of this community," said Jim Musser. "Is that what we really want to do – for what – for some added dollars for a few people? When you take agricultural farmland and turn it into brick and mortar, it’s gone forever."

Justin Harnish, vice-chairman of the supervisors, assured the crowd that this was a workshop session to discuss and to continue the thought process.

"Just so it’s clear, in tonight’s meeting, we do not have a product to roll out to the community. It’s great to have the public input, but there are no decisions being made tonight," said Harnish.

Christian Landis of Durlach Road stated he was a fifth generation farmer and was applauded for continuing his roots as a younger farmer.

"This is the number one non-irrigated soil in the country and we’re going to put it under asphalt and concrete?," he said. "For one thing, our police force is already stretched thin with slow responses at times, and what if you have a police officer that has to come from the far side of Penn Township to someone smashing car windows at a new (store)?" said Landis who continued with words which got the biggest laugh of the night, "If you can’t find it at Paul B. Zimmerman’s good store, you don’t need it, so there’s no reason for us to have a (supply store) and things like that."

The audience seemed skeptical of the plan.

"Part of it is long-term planning," said supervisor Keith Martin. "With the infrastructure of water and sewer being there and it’s a relatively short span, I feel inevitably something will happen there. Will it happen in five years, or will it happen in 30 years, I don’t know? I think we as a board have proven to the community that agricultural land is as important to us as it is to you.

"We as a board would be remiss if we buried our heads in the sand and absolutely did not look down the road, did not plan ahead and just assume the way it is now is the way it always will be," he continued. "We don’t know if in 15 years who our board and supervisors will be, we don’t know what their mindset will be. That’s the big reason we spend the time utilizing the frontage but very carefully maintain the land behind it. At some point we have to visit some topics because growth is inevitable – we need to plan in a smart manner,"

"Historically, Clay Township does not chop up farms, does not take agriculture ground. We, as a board, are pretty passionate about saving farm ground. This is in very conceptual plans," Lausch added,

Dan Sweigart, who recently wrote letters to both The Ephrata Review and Intelligencer Journal on this subject, had issue with Newell’s comment on the farmlands having water and sewer as supposedly being a foregone conclusion to commercializing farmland.

"If you’ve seen what Narvon and East Earl Township have done on Route 23 – that highway is one of the most beautiful roads in Lancaster County from Blue Ball to Morgantown and has been designated as a scenic, historic agricultural highway," stressed Sweigart. "Their sewer and water is there, but they’re not taking that attitude that, well, sewer and water is there, so let’s just build the road out. They’re taking a preservation stand saying that if we pave this land, it’s gone forever."

Sweigart was also skeptical on other points.

"If a developer comes in after all this land has been rezoned highway commercial, you’re saying this would accommodate small-scale businesses like doctors’ offices, supplies (stores), what have you – what would prevent a large complex from coming in? Sweigart asked. "Once the zoning is there, how could you legally stop a Target, Lowes or other store? They come in with fistfuls of money, what would prevent them from buying the entire strip? That’s essentially what happened in Murrell. At the heart of this argument is really a moral, ethical argument because we’re talking here (about) taking some of the best class one, class two soils in the world."

By the end of the heated meeting, a small trust seemed to form between the supervisors and the crowd and each were relieved to express their side.

"I applaud you supervisors and planning commission for asking the difficult questions about the future – it is your job," Gary Landis said. "It doesn’t always happen this way, but I’m glad to see it’s how you’re working in Clay Township."

More CLAY, page A7

About Ephrata Review