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Franklin County plans land-use forum

January 02, 2004|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - A look at local headlines in 2003 convinced Franklin County Commissioner G. Warren Elliott that the county needs to convene a land-use forum next year.

Elliott, chairman of the board of commissioners, said Tuesday that controversies over rezoning in Washington Township, a proposed quarry in St. Thomas Township and the use of biosolids on county farmland prompted him to propose earmarking $25,000 in 2004 for a forum to address local land use issues.

Elliott cited a Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy study showing that Pennsylvania's population increased 2.5 percent between 1982 and 1997, but consumption of land for development grew 47 percent.

"Notwithstanding the state's minuscule growth, the commonwealth decentralized rapidly during the 1990s," according to the study, "Back to Prosperity: A Competitive Agenda for Renewing Pennsylvania." The population of what the study called "outer townships" grew by 12 percent during the 1990s, while urban areas declined by 2 percent.

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"State road and economic development investments ... have contributed to the decline of the state's older communities by either supporting the dispersal of population and economic activity, or failing to target aid sufficiently on established municipalities," according to the study.

The report concludes that Pennsylvania's urban areas are decaying for lack of a revitalization policy, while existing policies encourage sprawl in rural areas.

"Per person we're consuming so much more land and the window to do something about it is closing fast," Elliott said.

Participants in a land-use forum would include farmers and agricultural officials, developers, municipal and planning officials, the state's Department of Community and Economic Development, civic groups and individuals, Elliott said.

"A land-use forum is a logical extension of what we've done with comprehensive planning" and encouraging regional planning, Commissioner Cheryl Plummer said.

Residents in Washington Township were sharply divided over proposals to rezone 1,025 acres from mostly agricultural to residential and commercial zoning, with some opponents saying it is counter to the township's comprehensive plan.

In St. Thomas Township, which has no zoning ordinance, residents formed a group to oppose a quarry west of the village of St. Thomas. County residents opposed to using biosolids from sewage treatment plants on county farmland have formed their own group, the Coalition of Residents Organized for Self-expression, or CROP.

Elliott said the county has tried to encourage development within boroughs and villages through the use of Community Development Block Grant funds to support sewer and water projects in established communities. The county has also purchased development rights on more than 7,000 acres of farmland through the Agricultural Land Preservation Program, according to county figures.

Those kind of investments are among the Brookings Institution recommendations, which urges the state to "get serious about planning and coordination" on economic development and land use.

"First and foremost, I think we want to get everyone's attention," Elliott said of the local land-use issues.

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