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Londonderry supervisors explain rationale for zoning change that could lead to development

By Laura Hayes

laurahayes@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 9/11/19

For the most part, Londonderry Township supervisors said little before approving zoning ordinance amendments Sept. 3 that will make way for developing three tracts in Londonderry …

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Londonderry supervisors explain rationale for zoning change that could lead to development

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For the most part, Londonderry Township supervisors said little before approving zoning ordinance amendments Sept. 3 that will make way for developing three tracts in Londonderry Township.

Following a public hearing that lasted about 2 1/2 hours, the supervisors voted on the zoning amendments during their regular meeting afterward that lasted about 15 minutes.

There was no discussion of the proposed changes during the regular board meeting, and some in the audience were even unsure if the changes had been approved after the supervisors voted.

One resident, at the hearing, asked supervisors to delay a vote.

“You guys have a lot of questions you can’t answer. I don’t think we should be voting tonight,” resident John Crater said.

He had asked whether he would have to pay someone to inspect his sewer system if he hooks onto the public sewer, to which township manager Steve Letavic answered that it was a question for Derry Township Municipal Authority, which will be receiving the township’s sewage.

During an interview with the Press & Journal on Friday, Chairwoman Anna Dale said she had asked board members following the hearing if they were ready to vote. The supervisors, she said, realized nothing would change from now and their next meeting, and “we realized that we didn’t have any other options.”

“There really wasn’t any need to delay it,” Supervisor Mel Hershey told the Press & Journal.

He said supervisors received emails about the projects from Letavic. In addition to the presentation at the meeting, Hershey said they had the opportunity to research the economics of the plan.

Two developers — Core5 Industrial Partners and Vision Group Ventures — plan to construct what township solicitor Mark Stewart said would entail “essentially logistic centers or distribution centers or warehousing, whatever term you want to put on it” on the northern portion of the former Lytle Farms project; the old School Heights Village project behind Saturday’s Market; and land behind Ed’s Landscaping off Route 230.

While the supervisors made comments during the hearing, Supervisor Ron Kopp was the only one who spoke between the hearing and when the supervisors voted on the amendments.

The Press & Journal called the other supervisors to ask why they voted for it. Mike Geyer and Bart Shellenhamer didn’t return calls.

“We couldn’t afford a $26 million liability,” Hershey said, referring to the estimated cost to install public sewer.

Plus, the township, Dauphin County and Lower Dauphin School District will lose revenue from Three Mile Island, which is projected to close later this month.

During the hearing, Stewart estimated that the projects would generate an annual property tax revenue of $675,000.

“Would I like to see it the same ‘ole same ole?’ Probably. But I could not consciously not vote for this project,” Hershey said.

Kopp, he said, hit it on the head.

During the meeting, Kopp said he has served in different roles in the township since 1991, including being on the planning commission. He said he remembers numerous proposals for developing these tracts. When the projects came before supervisors, he said, residents did not want them.

He said he would tell the residents it wasn’t a problem because the township didn’t have public water or sewer, and the developments wouldn’t happen without public water or sewer.

Kopp is a farmer, and he said he understood that people want the township to be rural.

“You’re talking about losing half of my land base here if this happens. … We all live here. We’re all members of this community. None of us want to be the next senator or legislator of the state. We’re here because we want to serve the community. We’re not here to try to take some money and run. We’re trying to do the best that we can do for the community,” Kopp said.

This isn’t a conversation whether to install public sewer or not, he said, because it’s being required by the state.

These are credible developers who have the money to help the township, Kopp said.

During the hearing, Dale recalled doing research on the traditional neighborhood developments when they were originally being proposed for Lytle Farms and School Heights Village behind Saturday’s Market. She advocated for residents to come to the planning commission to be informed.

All of the supervisors have different interests, she said.

“We as a board do not micromanage the township,” she said.

In an interview, she echoed Kopp, saying the township has to fulfill its sewer obligations, and it had opportunities to develop the land in the past.

“I think it’s the best option, given what we are financially and what we are obligated by law to do,” Dale said.

In an interview with the Press & Journal, Dale said there was a “push” from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, who she said wouldn't approve any new septic and package treatment plants until the township's Act 537 plan was addressed. However, John Repetz, DEP community relations coordinator, said he was "not aware of a prohibition on package treatment plants," which he said require planning prior to issuing a permit.