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Residents say site of proposed housing might be a wetland

June 29, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH

BLUE RIDGE SUMMIT, PA.

Washington Township, Pa., residents on Wednesday again spoke strongly against an 18-lot development proposed on Pennersville Road, two weeks before a representative of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is scheduled to address the township supervisors.

Neighboring property owners have repeatedly said they feel the 6.31-acre property should be considered wetlands and cannot support the homes. The land, zoned low-density residential, is adjacent to the Happel's Meadow wetland preserve maintained by the township.

The proposal from developer Kylea and Associates Inc. of Mercersburg, Pa., won conditional approval from the township planning commission earlier this month.

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There have been mixed signals as to whether the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave its approval to build on the land.

"We've got petitions going around (to oppose the development). In eight hours today, we got 60 signatures," said Elaine Gladhill of Carrosmar Farm Road in Waynesboro.

Township Manager Mike Christopher encouraged the neighbors to attend the Wednesday, July 12, meeting with Frank Plewa from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Representatives of Skelly & Loy Inc. of Hagerstown, the engineering/environmental consulting firm that surveyed the site, are also expected to attend.

Neighbors will receive letters inviting them "to have firsthand discussions with the people who delineate the wetlands," Christopher said.

"There is a difference between wet ground and wetlands, a statutory difference," he said.

"The problem with Pennsylvania municipal law ... (is that) if the developer meets the requirements of an ordinance, then we can't vote against it. I agree. It's a bad development in a bad area, but at first glance, it meets the criteria," Supervisor John Gorman told the concerned residents.

He said the supervisors will consider the development's impact on the wetlands as it continues with the review process.

The report from Skelly & Loy Inc. acknowledges difficulties in regulating properties that border wetlands, especially the activities of individual lot owners.

"Some of the infrastructure you have to put in will have be unique to work," Supervisor Paul Benchoff said, commenting that the sewer line would have to be encased instead of being installed in unstable soil.

The township had wanted to purchase the property, now owned by Thomas Mongold of Mercersburg, but encountered difficulties when it went to public auction. The supervisors would have been required to say how much they were willing to spend during a public meeting, Christopher said.

"At the end of the day, we have to make sure we stay legal with our negotiations," he said.

Now, if the property cannot be developed - the township could hinder construction of a bridge by prohibiting access over its adjacent land - the township will seek grant money to purchase it.

"We'd like to have that piece of ground owned by the township," Supervisor Stewart McCleaf said.

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