A SHOW OF HANDS

Crowd con­vinces su­per­vi­sors to step back from zon­ing change, al­low­ing more hous­ing in ex­change for sewer work

The Phoenix - - FRONT PAGE - By Evan Brandt ebrandt@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @PottstownNews on Twit­ter

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.

EVAN BRANDT — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

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.

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