The standing of the land-use zoning map for Conestoga Township is tough to elucidate in a couple of quick strains, a lot in order that in sitting down to write down this column, your Watchdog felt a bit just like the lead character within the Oscar-winning film All the pieces All over the place All at As soon as – a lady finds herself repeatedly shifting dimensions and timelines whereas attempting to avoid wasting herself and everybody else from an existential risk.
Okay, that’s a little bit of an exaggeration. However attempt following alongside because the Watchdog lays out the scenario within the township of slightly below 4,000 folks positioned within the county’s southwest:
Residents attending a township assembly final November seen one thing unusual concerning the zoning map, which governs how landowners can use their properties. In 2020, the township made a small change to the map, including three parcels of land to its agriculture district.
However residents stated the map revealed after the 2020 change was radically completely different from the one they’d been residing below for years. One attendee on the assembly, Carole Clancy, objected and requested why the township supervisors had undertaken an intensive zoning map change with out holding public conferences or explaining the adjustments to residents.
“If you take a look at previous maps, it seems that the brand new map doesn’t precisely replicate the zoning in Conestoga,” Clancy stated on the November assembly. “The neighborhood must be conscious and we should always right it if it’s improper.”
The township’s three supervisors stated they, too, have been confused. Chairman John Berry instructed it might all be of their heads – that individuals have been simply unfamiliar with the brand new colour schemes used within the map created after 2020.
However after the assembly, Berry stated he undertook a deep dive into the township’s current zoning historical past. And that’s how he discovered that his predecessors had made a giant error in 2010 – the final time the township undertook a serious rezoning effort.
That yr, the Lancaster County Conservancy was set to buy over 2,000 acres of land from PPL Electrical Utilities, which included Shenks Ferry Wildflower Protect in Conestoga Township. In line with LNP | LancasterOnline archives, the Conservancy envisioned among the land getting used for mountaineering, biking and birdwatching.
The township’s 2010 rezoning effort was undertaken to make sure the Conservancy would get the inexperienced mild to do every thing it needed as soon as the sale was finalized.
“We by no means thought we would want to deal with this, however (the Conservancy) needs to guarantee that what they’re allowed to do is spelled out,” Conestoga planning fee chairman Wes Bruckno stated on the time.
He stated officers have been involved in a “fast repair” to the zoning map to authorize “passive recreation” on the conservancy’s newly acquired property. In line with the U.S. Environmental Safety Company, passive recreation contains actions that don’t require services like a subject or pavilion.
The results of the 2010 change was to reclassify a number of hundred acres of township land zoned for “rural conservation” over to “agriculture.” Guidelines for land zoned for agriculture are stricter, whereas rural conservation zoning gives house owners extra flexibility, together with the opportunity of utilizing land for business actions and recreation.
All the pieces was completed appropriately to undertake a zoning modification that yr, Berry stated. The township correctly marketed its plans, the native planning fee was concerned, and supervisors held public hearings, which Berry confirmed by checking LNP archives and township paperwork.
However Berry stated the supervisors missed the final and most vital step to undertake the zoning adjustments: enacting an ordinance.
This implies the entire land folks have lengthy assumed to be zoned agriculture is definitely zoned rural conservation, Berry stated.
“Principally what they did was they coloured a map and despatched it to the county and stated, ‘Right here, we’re completed,’” Berry stated. “They by no means adopted by with the entire steps.”
Conestoga operated below 2010 zoning adjustments for years afterward. The failure to cross the required ordinance wasn’t even seen by native officers in 2020 when the supervisors made a smaller zoning change. That yr, the engineering firm employed to supply new zoning maps, Rettew, was solely capable of finding the pre-2010 zoning map on file. That’s the model the corporate used to replace the township zoning map, and that’s the model that raised questions from residents on the November supervisors assembly.
Craig Eshelman, a Conestoga supervisor in 2010, stated he believed the entire right steps have been taken to undertake an ordinance however couldn’t recall the specifics. If it wasn’t completed appropriately, he stated, the present board ought to contemplate formally adopting the adjustments.
“Whether or not the final step in doing an ordinance was finalized, whether or not that’s right or not, I don’t know,” Eshelman stated. “In the event that they thought one thing wasn’t completed procedurally, the process ought to simply be modified.”
Present Supervisor Bob Hershey stated it’s not that straightforward — the board must run new ads and maintain public hearings. All the pieces should be completed within the public eye so all residents know the adjustments are taking place, even when they have been already mentioned 13 years in the past.
Hershey stated the board plans to let residents determine for themselves whether or not they need to rezone their land again to agriculture. That means, residents would bear the prices of rezoning their particular person properties and never the township. Up to now, Berry and Hershey stated nobody has come to them with considerations about their property’s zoning.
Nevertheless, Berry stated he needs the planning fee to contemplate the problem once more, so it’s dealt with the “proper means.” Bruckno, Conestoga’s present planning fee chairman, stated the fee might evaluate the problem at its April 24 assembly.
John Rice, an lawyer for Perkasie-based Grim, Biehn and Thatcher, has greater than 25 years of expertise in Pennsylvania municipal regulation. He stated Conestoga’s supervisors are proper to start out the entire zoning course of over once more. An ordinance should be handed for any zoning adjustments to enter impact, Rice stated, so it solely is smart for the board to revert again to the pre-2010 map whereas additionally together with the smaller 2020 zoning change.
“If the present board is attempting to return and proper issues, that’s the right method to do it,” Rice stated.
What it means for stakeholders
The Conservancy owns 4 nature preserves in Conestoga Township — Pequea, Fox Hole, Shenks Ferry and Secure Harbor. A few of that land is affected by the zoning uncertainty, however the nonprofit didn’t instantly reply to The Watchdog’s questions on how its land is affected in all of this.
“The Conservancy is all the time in search of alternatives to guard our essential and delightful pure areas and supply alternatives for outside recreation, and we respect the help and neighborhood members and native leaders in our efforts to take action,” advertising and communications Supervisor Avery Van Etten stated through electronic mail.
Some township residents questioned whether or not the zoning confusion will profit Hershey, particularly a portion of property he owns on Sand Hill Highway. With the map reverting to its pre-2010 outlines, Hershey’s parcel now falls below rural conservation zoning.
Hershey owns Jason’s Woods, a Halloween-themed attraction in Conestoga, and he introduced plans in 2018 to construct one other leisure enterprise referred to as Hershey Enjoyable Farms on the property throughout the road from his vacant Sand Hill farm. Nothing has progressed with that venue, however his allow software contains instructional actions and a few tenting.
Berry stated it’s cheap for folks to query how these zoning adjustments have been made and what their affect is on an elected official’s property — one who owns and operates an leisure venue and now has the power to broaden.
Hershey is adamant a change was by no means made to his property to start with and that individuals shouldn’t be involved about it. He referred to as it “unfair” for a township resident to make feedback about his property, as a result of they don’t seem to be paying taxes on it.
However it’s not out of the query that the reversion to a pre-2010 zoning map means Hershey might construct a house or begin one other enterprise on the land he owns.
“I don’t have any plans at this second, however I’m not going to say that I gained’t sooner or later,” Hershey stated.
E-mail the Lancaster Watchdog at firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to LancasterOnline.com/watchdog and inform us about it.