Wal-Mart, housing hot topics at public rezoning hearing

November 21, 2003|by DON AINES

Washington Township residents spent more than two hours Thursday night airing their views on the proposed rezoning of more than 1,000 acres, but will have to wait until Dec. 1 to find out how the township supervisors will vote on the nine requests, including one that would open the way for a Wal-Mart Supercenter.

Approximately 300 people attended the public hearing in the Blue Ridge Fire and Rescue social hall. Much of the public comment centered on a proposal by Echo Waynesboro Associates to rezone and develop a 24-acre tract along Pa. 16 in Rouzerville, Pa., for the Wal-Mart.

Township Manager Mike Christopher said the supervisors planned to table consideration of all the proposals until their next meeting.

"Will Wal-Mart change to fit Washington Township, or will we have to change to fit Wal-Mart?" asked township resident Theresa Ganley. "Wal-Mart can afford to lose money here for years until they demolish other businesses," she said.


"We want a Wal-Mart and we want a supercenter," said Camille Bowie, one of several residents carrying "We want Wal-Mart" signs. She said the communities where she sees Wal-Mart stores are thriving, "not ghost towns as some have suggested."

Supporters of the retail giant locating in the township said there are few retail choices in the area, with the result that many residents drive to Wal-Mart in Chambersburg, Pa., or Hagerstown and do their other shopping there, as well.

Other supporters said a Wal-Mart would generate jobs and tax revenues to support municipal services.

Opponents said a Wal-Mart would drive other retailers such as Kmart out of business and, along with other planned commercial and residential development, add to traffic congestion and put stress on utilities, police and other public services.

"Our community will look like an urban, blighted area," resident Bill Prince said of the effect Wal-Mart could have on the Waynesboro and Wayne Heights malls.

The township planning commission voted 3-2 on Nov. 10 to recommend that the supervisors approve the rezoning requests that involve the proposed site of the Wal-Mart.

A total of 1,025 acres is involved in the nine requests, most of which would be rezoned from agricultural to residential. Example plans of how the properties could be developed were submitted with the rezoning requests, but the developers would not have to adhere to those plans, according to township engineer Charles Sioberg.

Those plans outline the possible construction of 1,282 single-family homes, 136 multi-family dwellings and 66 acres of commercial development, said Sioberg. He said, however, that those plans likely look at developing the lands at a higher density than would occur.

"We are talking about an explosion, an absolute explosion, in our township," said resident Pat Heefner. She predicted that development would occur at a rate faster than the 20 years some of the developers and their representatives have predicted.

Sioberg said an impact study requested last month by the planning commission looked at the effect the proposed development would have on the community.

Township sewer and water officials told him they have adequate capacity to accommodate the development, Sioberg said.

At a rate of approximately 100 new housing units a year, he said the school district believes that would add about 50 students a year. Police and fire officials said "the growth would happen in such a way that they can plan for it," Sioberg said.

Representatives from the Franklin County Builders Association, the Franklin County Area Development Corp. and the real estate business all spoke in favor of the rezoning.

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