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Townships in Pa. weigh alternative designs

March 01, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Facing unprecedented growth in southern Franklin County, Pa., two municipalities that have land available for future development are considering measures to give them better control over the design of developments.

Washington Township is on the heels of Antrim Township in the process of meshing "Growing Greener: Conservation by Design" standards into the existing subdivision and zoning ordinances.

The move would require developers to set aside large open spaces for either active or passive recreation - without reducing the number of proposed houses. The developer would be rewarded for establishing open spaces with a provision allowing him to build with a higher density than is now permitted in the zone.

"It's the same number of homes, half the land," said Ann Hutchinson of Natural Lands Trust, a regional land conservation organization.

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Now, if a developer proposes 100 single-family houses in an agricultural zone in Washington Township, he must build each house on a two-acre lot.

If conservation by design standards were adopted exactly as proposed, that developer would be permitted to construct each house on a one-acre lot if he set aside 100 acres for open space. That space can be, for instance, a park, wildlife habitat, working farm or buffer to a stream or trail.

"The land needs to be kept in as large a contiguous parcel as possible. That's usually not too difficult," said Hutchinson.

An easement would be placed on the open space to prevent future development, she said.

While conservation by design may eliminate large backyards, properties are supposed to either abut open space or have direct access to it. Hutchinson said the open space is supposed to be within walking distance of each house.

She said Antrim Township has been given a stipend to adapt Natural Lands Trust's model ordinances with engineering firm Martin and Martin of Chambersburg, Pa.

"We have kind of a finalized draft that is now being reviewed by our attorney. We've been going to seminars for five or six years on it," said Bob Whitmore, chairman of the Antrim Township Supervisors.

He said plans for thousands of homes were reviewed last year, and proposals for thousands more are coming.

The Washington Township Supervisors are expected to decide if they want to pursue adoption of the concepts at a workshop meeting tonight, according to Mike Christopher, township manager.

He said the supervisors have been researching the matter and recently hosted a public presentation by Hutchinson. The Washington Township Planning Commission reviewed preliminary plans for 1,053 new homes last year.

Waynesboro and Greencastle boroughs, which are encompassed by Antrim and Washington townships, have very little land available for growth. The planning commission in Waynesboro is considering development on alleys to compensate for that.

Conservation by design originated when Randall Arendt, who now works with Natural Lands Trust, returned from an overseas assignment with the Peace Corps and was "appalled how development was affecting the New England landscape," Hutchinson said.

Now the standards are in place in suburbs in the Midwest and parts of New England. They are increasing in popularity in Texas, she said.

Conservation by design "is a growth management tool for residential development," Hutchinson said.

The first step is mapping wetlands, flood plains, slopes, woodlands, trails, historic sites and prime farmland.

The developer could then preserve the existing topography, said Hutchinson, who feels doing so might actually benefit developers.

"Earth moving is expensive for the developer," said Hutchinson, who added that it's also "expensive in terms of environmental costs."

Ownership of the open space is determined between the developer and municipality. Hutchinson commented that some municipalities are looking to enhance their park systems, while others don't want additional burden.

The open space can be owned by a developer or a homeowners association.

"The township can't really require that this open space is publicly accessible," Hutchinson said.

She said the conservation by design concepts can be applied to multi-family houses and different types of zoning.

Antrim Township is looking to adopt the standards townshipwide, Whitmore said.

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