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Planning Commission hears more arguments on Wal-Mart proposal

October 14, 2003|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Wanting more information on the impact on traffic, schools and municipal services, the Washington Township Planning Commission Monday night tabled action on 10 rezoning requests that could bring a Wal-Mart Supercenter and 2,000 or more housing units to the township over the next 10 to 20 years.

The decision to table a recommendation to the township's board of supervisors does not affect the timeline leading up to a Nov. 20 public hearing on the requests before the board of supervisors. The commission is scheduled to meet again Nov. 10.

"Is there a need for this amount of land to be rezoned residentially?" asked commission member Robert Peiffer. He said growth in the township has been slowing, not increasing, in recent years.

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"I don't see how we can do this. ... We don't have enough information," said Randy Kuhn, another commission member. Kuhn said the township needs a "community impact analysis" to show the commission what the proposed housing units would mean to traffic flow through the township on Pa. 16 and Old Forge, Country Club, Gehr and other roads.

Kuhn also wants to know what impact the development will have on the Waynesboro Area School District, particularly with another 1,400-unit development being proposed within the borough of Waynesboro.

"We wanted to keep this an agricultural-based community and now we're going 180 degrees away from that," Kuhn said.

"All your discussions regard residential development," said Bruce E. Haney of Echo Real Estate Services of Pittsburgh. His company represents three local property owners who want 28 acres rezoned for a commercial development that would include a Wal-Mart and a home-improvement center.

Haney said his company's development plan already includes a traffic study and that commercial development has no negative impact on schools. He said the property could generate $300,000 or more a year in local real estate taxes, most of which would go to the school district without adding one student.

Haney said the store would create about 300 jobs and provide millions each year in state sales taxes on $80 million or more in sales. In answer to a query from township supervisor candidate Chris Firme, Haney said about half the jobs would be part-time.

Wal-Mart's impact on local businesses was raised by Kuhn, and Haney did not deny that some local retailers would fold once the $220 billion corporation opened a store here. At the same time, he said, Wal-Mart provides products, not services.

"The businesses that serve their customers will thrive in a Wal-Mart environment," he said.

The decision to build a Wal-Mart in the township, Haney said, is not based on projected residential development. The retailer's market study, he said, "deals basically with the population that's here today."

Regarding the impact on traffic from the rezoning requests, Township Manager Mike Christopher said the township's plan for a relief route for Pa. 16 from Rouzerville, Pa., to Zullinger, Pa., would accommodate up to 20,000 vehicles a day.

While a portion of that route was killed by the supervisors earlier this year after public criticism, Christopher said many development plans for the properties include the other sections. The areas also are served by water and sewer, making them suitable for development, he said.

"You're saying to these folks that their applications have to sit until this gets done," Christopher said of the studies on traffic municipal services.

Commission member Lisa Donohue said the commission has to look at how to best preserve agricultural land.

"You've got to look at the big picture," Kuhn said at one point.

"I'm looking at my big picture," said Michael Knepper, one of those requesting his land be rezoned. He said his family bought that land long ago, not to farm, but as an investment.

"I stand to make a lot more money developing my land than renting it to a farmer," Knepper said. "I'm starting to think you want to protect my land from me."

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