A SHOW OF HANDS
Crowd convinces supervisors to step back from zoning change, allowing more housing in exchange for sewer work
LOWER FREDERICK » To say that the majority of the more than 100 people who packed into the Lower Frederick Township Building Tuesday night opposed a proposed zoning overlay district that would affect only five parcels in town would be an understatement.
When all was said and done, only one resident stood up in anything other than opposition and all he asked the three-member Board of Supervisors to do is to “consider all options.”
Even before the standingroom-only meeting, the supervisors had taken one step back from the idea — canceling the official public hearing scheduled for the same time, and instead turning it into an “informational meeting.”
By canceling the public hearing, the supervisors indicated they have no current plans to move forward with the proposal, and if they do, will have to announce and hold another official public hearing before they do, said supervisors’ Chairman Robert Yoder.
“We may never hear about this again,” he said.
But if the board does decide to move forward with the idea, an official a public hearing will have to be held before a vote can occur, he said.
The entire enterprise began with the proposed development of 41.5 acres at the intersection of
Gravel Pike and Salford Station Road.
Back in 2008, a traditional 48-lot housing development called Melbourne Hill was granted preliminary approval by the township.
At the time, the developers had proposed an increased density allowance — more homes than allowed under zoning — in exchange for donating some open space to the township.
But the developers, T.H.P. Properties, went bankrupt as the housing crash began and that was the last time anyone mentioned “open space.”
In the meantime, the township was dealing with an aging sewer plant that served the hamlets of Zieglersville and Spring Mount, ultimately embarking on what is now a $10 million effort to replace it.
In connection with the plant upgrade, the township upgrades its sewage master plan, known as an Act 537 plan, and it calls for a new sewer line along Goshenhoppen Creek.
When the plant is complete, the sewer plant’s capacity will have more than doubled, allowing the township to take care of some problems in the Spring Mount area of town where on-site septic systems are failing, the cost of which is included in the $10 million borrowing.
However, the township does not have the money currently to build the new Goshenhoppen sewer line, estimated in 2013 at $2.3 million.
More recently, the economy began to recover and the owner of the property where Melbourne Hill was proposed came to the township to revive the proposal.
But now, instead of open space, the township was looking at existing and potential on-site septic system problems on Little Road, which borders the proposed Melbourne Hill development, and trading sewer construction for increased housing density.
That is what the overlay ordinance was designed to effectuate.
It is located in an area of town the Central Perkiomen Valley Regional Planning Commission’s comprehensive plan has identified as a “growth area” in its comprehensive plan.
As Montgomery County Planner Donna Fabry described it, “it’s the place you want growth to go.”
The idea, said Supervisor Terry Sacks, is that it would allow the sewer planning to go forward more cheaply, since unlike the township, a developer does not have to pay “prevailing wage” and other costs a public project must bear.
And, of course, the developer would be paying for it, not the township.
The fact that the draft ordinance was written by John Kennedy, a planner for the potential developers and former developers, as shown in the March 9 planning commission minutes, did not sit well with the standing-room only crowd.
But Township Engineer Carol Schuehler, who confirmed that fact, also said the language had since been modified by township officials to put more authority with the township supervisors.
According to an analysis Schuehler undertook for the meeting, a property in the overlay district needs to be at least 10 acres for the regulations to apply and there are five such properties including Melbourne Hill.
On the four properties other than Melbourne Hill, the overlay would allow 91 homes instead of the 35 allowed under existing R-2 zoning; an increase of 56 homes.
For Melbourne Hill, the overlay would allow the 48 approved lots to increase to 85, said Schuehler — an increase of 37. When added to the potential increase at the other properties, the total additional housing units the overlay district have allowed is 93.
That works out to a density ratio as high as 2.5 homes per acre in twoacre zoning.
There was a bit of dispute about whether that represents “high density” zoning, with Fabry pointing out that official “highdensity” zoning is as high as 10 units per acre, not 2.5.
But, the disputes about numbers, zoning and definitions may be moot.
The overwhelming sentiment of the crowd at Tuesday night’s meeting was evident — opposed.
“We heard you,” Yoder said.
And given that the supervisors later in the evening said they have no plans to visit the subject again, one might conclude the matter is decided.
If nothing else changes, township will still face an additional 48 units if Melbourne Hill is developed, as well as a thorny sewer problem.
All those with their hands raised at the packed meeting of the Lower Frederick Supervisors Tuesday opposed the creation of the Goshenhoppen Creek Overlay District.