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Residents sound off on township recreation plan

February 24, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Someday, perhaps far into the future, Washington Township may be laced with hiking and biking paths that follow meandering streams and creeks, linking existing and future parks.

First, the township will have to adopt its plan for recreation, parks and open space and pass an ordinance to create a funding mechanism to make that plan a reality. Monday night, about 20 residents attended a public meeting to review and comment on the plan.

"The township has always encouraged developers to put in recreation areas" and the planning commission now believes it should be required, said Charles Sioberg, the township's engineer. Under the plan, developers would have the option of setting aside .06 acres per housing unit for recreation, or paying a fee that would be used to fund new recreational facilities or improvements to existing ones.

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Sioberg said the township controls about 269 acres of existing recreational land in the Pine Hill Regional Recreation Area, the adjoining Red Run Park, the Happel's Meadow Wetlands near Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., and a few smaller recreation areas. The plan, however, sees a "bubble" of new development over the next decade in the township, where more than 1,000 acres of land were recently rezoned from agricultural to residential and commercial zones.

In lieu of setting aside land within a development for recreation, developers could pay between $300 and $1,500 per new housing lot, Township Manager Mike Christopher said last week. Sioberg said Antrim Township has a $250 fee and Chambersburg is looking at a $600 fee.

No fee has been set, but developer Ronnie Martin said too high a fee would discourage first-time home buyers. "Nothing says you can't start at one level and move up" if the fee proves inadequate, he said.

While setting aside recreational space in large developments makes sense, smaller developments would be encouraged to pay the fee instead to discourage a proliferation of "tot lots" scattered throughout the township, Sioberg said. Wetlands, steep tracts or odd-shaped parcels would not be acceptable donations of land, he said.

Among the goals of the plan is creating an area for teens to congregate and socialize at Pine Hill. What that would mean in terms of specific facilities remains to be determined.

"We're going to have to sit down with the people that work regularly with teens and the teens themselves," Sioberg said.

Enhancing existing facilities would be another goal, including sled runs or other winter attractions and activities for all ages. Pedestrian or bike paths would link existing and future recreation areas.

To create those paths, the plan calls for acquiring easements to connect Pine Hill to Waynesboro's Renfrew Park and a future county trails system. That network could be along the branches of the Antietam and other waterways in the township, according to the plan.

"If I had $10 million, it would be there," said Waynesboro resident David Clement. He said such a network would be costly, but part of the township's plan should be "prospecting" for new recreational land.

Code Enforcement Officer Gerald Zeigler Jr. said a number of property owners have been made aware that the township is interested in acquiring land from them in the future.

Walkways and bike paths should be outside the flood plain of those creeks and streams to protect the water and prevent them from being washed out by high water. That would mean a wider easement would have to be acquired.

Martin said many property owners would not appreciate the loss of privacy, noise and other problems from trails behind their homes. Firme responded that some home buyers would want access to such amenities.

In providing recreation for all ages, the plan envisions Happel's Meadow becoming an educational and bird watching site with an interpretive center and boardwalk extending into the wetlands.

Blue Ridge Summit resident John Gorman suggested the interpretive center could also serve the nearby site of the Battle of Monterey, the largest Civil War engagement in Franklin County. His letter to the board recommended acquiring additional easements in the area to "create an interconnecting network of parks, historical sites and recreation sites that would be unique in our state and perhaps the U.S."

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