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Farm rezoning heavily opposed

December 02, 1999|By RICHARD F. BELISLE, Waynesboro

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - The proposed rezoning of a 103-acre farm in Washington Township has divided the Board of Supervisors and generated opposition from neighbors. The issue comes to a head Monday night when the supervisors cast their final vote on the question.

The board voted 3 to 2 on Nov. 1 to rezone the Glen Afton Farms off Harbaugh Church Road from mostly agricultural to R-1. That would allow the construction of up to 200 single-family dwellings on lots as small as one-fourth acre, according to Township Code Enforcement Officer Jerry Zeigler.

The board approved the rezoning despite recommendations against it by the township Planning and Zoning Commission and the Franklin County Planning Commission. The township and the county adopted revised comprehensive plans this year. Both call for preserving farmland instead of developing it.

About a dozen opponents of the development met at the Harbaugh Church Thursday night to plan last-minute strategies before Monday's vote. They plan to hand out flyers in their churches and around the township asking residents to "Say No to Afton Acres."

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The flyer urges residents to attend Monday's meeting. It also says the development would destroy the peaceful tranquility of the historic church and cemetery and add 500 vehicles to Harbaugh Road every day.

The property, considered by some to be among the best farmland in the township, is owned by Susan Elgin of Hagerstown. She wants it rezoned to build up to 200 single family homes, township documents show. Zeigler said lots could be as small as 10,000 square feet if the owner hooks onto the nearest public water and sewer lines 1,000 feet away.

"The township comprehensive plan recommends the preservation of farmland and did not recommend residential development in that area," Zeigler said.

The Elgin property is surrounded by active farmland on three sides.

"We should make every effort to preserve in clusters the very best farms in the county and that growth should occur in areas where the infrastructure exists to support growth," County Commissioner G. Warren Elliott said recently of the county's comprehensive plan. The plan, however, "is advisory in nature" and does not carry the force of law, he said.

Harbaugh Church, an old country church and cemetery that the Elgin land surrounds, has been owned by the Waynesboro Historical Society since 1983. It is used only for special occasions, including community meetings. Society member John Blair said the cemetery is still active with about 25 interments a year. The earliest graves date to the 19th century. Veterans from every war since the Civil War are buried in it, Blair said. Opponents say they see the proposed development as a desecration of holy ground.

The society is on record as opposing the rezoning. Zeigler's office also has six pages of petitions signed by township residents opposed to it.

The board two weeks ago tabled consideration of the ordinance that would have finalized the rezoning because Supervisor John Beck, who voted for rezoning Nov. 1, was out of town, hence the need for Monday's final vote. Supervisors Richard Eigenbrode and Paul Benchoff voted with Beck. Opposing the rezoning are Supervisors James Kirby and Quinter Baumgardner.

Benchoff said Thursday that he voted for the rezoning because Elgin already has approval to subdivide the farm into townhouses and two-acre lots. "If it's rezoned she can build a lot more," Benchoff said. "That could save more farmland in other parts of the township."

Township Manager Michael Christopher said the road frontage of the property was subdivided into 14 lots and developed years ago. About nine acres of the land is zoned R-2, which would allow apartments and townhouses.

Dixie Myers, a leader of the effort to stop the rezoning, grew up near the farm. She sees it as a spiritual fight.

"My ancestors are buried in this cemetery. My mother is and I expect to be one day," she said. "This is about drawing a line and having the courage to say no. Our past, our history and our traditions need a voice. So-called progress, i.e., development, is not necessarily good."

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