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Forum to focus on land use in Franklin County

May 19, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Franklin County can look to Lancaster County, Gettysburg, Pa., and Hagerstown for examples of how smart development strategies improve both the quality of life and the economic bottom line, according to a nationally known authority on sustainable development.

Ed McMahon, vice president and director of land use programs for The Conservation Fund, will deliver the key address Friday at the Franklin County Land Use Forum in the Hayes Development and Conference Center at the Cumberland Valley Business Park.

"I'm going to talk about the dollars and sense of growing smarter," McMahon said Tuesday. "I'm going to make the business case that there are alternatives to the current development patterns that are more attractive, efficient, profitable and environmentally sound."

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Municipal, economic development, education and agricultural officials have been invited to the forum, proposed earlier this year by G. Warren Elliott, chairman of the Board of County Commissioners.

"These stakeholders all have a role in land-use issues," Elliott said. "Land use will be the issue that dominates this county over the next decade."

A proposed quarry in St. Thomas Township and the rezoning of more than 1,000 acres of farmland for residential and commercial use and a relief route in Washington Township are land-use issues that have pitted developers against residents and polarized communities, Elliott said.

"The county can serve as the vehicle to begin getting the stakeholders on the same page and to begin looking at securing the county's future," said Elliott. "We're a county at risk right now. At risk of losing land, at risk of making bad decisions and at risk of losing our quality of life."

Development and preservation do not always have to be at odds, McMahon said. In Lancaster County, the two major industries are tourism and agriculture and "both are dependent on the quality of the landscape," he said.

"Lancaster County is leading the U.S. in farmland preservation, and they're doing it strictly for economic reasons," McMahon said.

A million tourists visit the battlefield at Gettysburg every year, but McMahon said the borough did a poor job for many years of getting them to spend money in town.

"Part of the reason was the town did nothing to interpret its role in the battle," he said.

That changed with a "pathways project" with numerous historical markers and other downtown attractions.

Afterward, he said, sales-tax revenue from downtown businesses jumped "something like 23 percent in one year."

The decision to locate the University of Western Maryland campus in renovated buildings downtown will be an economic boon for Hagerstown, McMahon predicted.

"When those kids go back downtown, I guarantee you business is going to go with it," McMahon said.

Coffee shops, restaurants and other stores will be competing for student dollars, he said.

A campus outside of Hagerstown "would suck more business out of town," he said.

"We have compelling statistics that demonstrate that Southcentral Pennsylvania, and Franklin County in particular, are not a microcosm of the rest of Pennsylvania," Elliott said.

In addition to having more preserved farmland, agricultural production and farm income than any other part of the state, Southcentral Pennsylvania also is the state's top tourist destination and fastest growing region, Elliott said.

"Managed growth begets very good things in the community," Elliott said.

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