New Hanover Township assesses future needs
New township building, open space purchases discussed
NEW HANOVER » When the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission ranked projected percentage population growth by 2025 in the Philadelphia region, New Hanover Township came in at No. 2.
That’s No. 2 out of 37 townships, in eight counties, in two states.
The projected addition of about 6,800 people by 2025 represents a population increase of 98 percent since 2000 for this once rural township.
The U.S. Census Bureau currently estimates New Hanover’s population at 12,243. With no less than 37 development projects in various stages of the approval pipeline — with the potential to add another 5,000 residents to the mix — township officials are looking at a 41 percent population increase in just a few years.
Any way you choose to count it up, that’s explosive growth and, as Township Manager Jamie Gwynn sees it, the township supervisors had better start planning for now.
“We’ve learned you can never buy everything, and that the best partners are municipalities.” Peter Williamson, Natura Lands
So that’s what they were doing during a workshop session March 26 when they examined township facilities and open space — both of which will be affected by the coming population wave.
The current township building on North Charlotte Street, which houses both the administrative offices and the police department, is 40 years old and has a very leaky flat roof, according to Supervisor Phil Agliano.
“I can’t count how many times the smoke alarm has gone off because water got into the light fixtures,” he said.
The question Gwynn posed to the supervisors is, what should be done about the current building?
To help answer it, he provided three possible options drafted by an architect who has designed multiple municipal buildings. The township could:
• Renovate the current building and build a new police station on the current parcel;
• Knock down the current building and build an entirely new facility;
• Look at similar options at the recreation center on Hoffmansville Road.
Or it could look at other options, like whether it makes sense to try to obtain the vacant YMCA just up the road on North Charlotte Street.
It’s all on the table for consideration, he said.
Very preliminary estimates for these options range from $3 million to $5 million.
While that’s a lot of money, the township is in an excellent financial position, said Gwynn.
With a fund balance that is 58 percent of the annual $13 million expenditure, the township, which has not raised property taxes in 13 years, can afford to borrow for the construction without raising taxes to make the bond payments, he said.
The supervisors indicated a preliminary preference for keeping all functions — highway, police and administration — at the current location and will consider various options while awaiting a presentation from the architect at the May meeting.
“This is a two- or threeyear process,” Gwynn said of the decision on township facilities.
Open space preservation
The other major topic of discussion was the preservation of open space.
With 37 development projects and another 2,000 housing units in the pipeline, the time to start preserving open space is now, said Gwynn.
For example, should either of the township’s two golf course be sold for development, it could add 700 more housing units.
“You have the ability to shape the next 50 years of this township. It’s a great honor,” Gwynn told the supervisors.
The township levies an earned income tax of .15 percent dedicated to an open space fund and, other than the purchase of land behind the township building to prevent its development, it has been largely unused, Gwynn said.
It now stands at $1.3 million and by 2023, it will have grown to $3.8 million if the township does not begin to tap it.
“If we’re not going to buy open space, we should stop collecting the tax,” he said plainly.
But in addition to any parcels the township may want to buy, it could stretch its open space dollar by engaging in “conservation easements,” said Peter Williamson from the non-profit group Natural Lands, until recently known as Natural Lands Trust.
He explained that “conservation easements,” although “complicated” have the advantage of protecting land from development without outright purchase.
In essence, a land owner sells the development rights — usually the difference between the land’s value undeveloped and developed — and the easement is held by Natural Lands and not the township.
This allows the land to remain protected through political changes at the township level.
“We’ve learned you can never buy everything, and that the best partners are municipalities,” said Williamson.
That’s because township officials know the properties and property owners intimately, know which properties are the best targets for preservation and, as in New Hanover’s case, often have a pot of money set aside for preservation.
Partnering with Natural Lands not only gives the township access to their expertise, Williamson said, but to its funding network, which would allow New Hanover to obtain public and private grants for which township open space money can be used as matching money — making it go farther.
“New Hanover is perfectly situation to take advantage of the land preservation environment, because you have an open space fund,” said Williamson. “You don’t have to just spend your own money to do it , you can extend your money,” he said noting Natural Lands is the second largest recipient of state grant money in the region.
He said a typical conservation easement in a township New Hanover’s size is between 20 to 50 acres and Natural Lands “can do things as slowly or as quickly as the township wants.”
Supervisor Kurt Zebrowski said he does not want the township to be involved in any eminent domain proceedings. “I want willing sellers,” he said.
“We’re Band Aiding right now,” said Supervisors Chairman Charles Garner Jr.
Gwynn said the township has plans to begin re-writing its comprehensive plan “and we’re going to need to do long-term planning that changes zoning,” Garner added. “It’s going to take a while.”
In the meantime, the supervisors did agree in concept with Gwynn’s suggestion that an open space committee — with one member from the parks and recreation board, one from the environmental advisory committee, at least one supervisor, and several residents — be formed to begin to identify priorities for acquisition.
New Hanover Township Manager Jamie Gwynn, top left, leads the township supervisors through a discussion of the township’s 37 active development projects and remaining open space during a workshop March 26.
The current township building on North Charlotte Street houses both the police department and the administrative offices, and has a very leaky roof.