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Township eyeing water buffers for new developments

March 19, 2007|by JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - One of the Washington Township Supervisors' latest initiatives finds the board attempting to balance the needs of man with those of nature.

The supervisors have begun drafting regulations that would further protect the health of area waterways, especially the two branches of the Antietam Creek that continue to be intertwined with roads, homes, parks and businesses.

A new ordinance would be designed to establish natural riparian buffers between waterways and new development, while not impeding a property owner's right to use his land, according to Supervisor John Gorman.

"A good ordinance will take that into consideration and not take away the value of the land," Gorman said.

An ordinance could even allow a developer to build at a higher density elsewhere on his property if he maintains a riparian buffer, Supervisor Christopher Firme said.

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The supervisors encountered perceptions of "taking" last year when considering a proposal that would prohibit new construction within the so-called "100-year flood plain." The proposed flood plain regulations have since been discarded in favor of protecting the riparian buffers.

"A riparian buffer is an area generally less wide than a flood plain," Gorman said.

He said the width of a riparian buffer can vary, but the Chesapeake Bay Foundation recommends a minimum of 75 feet.

Some municipalities in Pennsylvania have opted for widths of 25 to 50 feet, while others have established "zones," Gorman said.

The buffer can vary by the type of waterway from intermittent streams that dry up in the summer to the strong, constantly flowing portion of the Antietam Creek before it splits, Firme said.

The goal is to create a setback from the edge of the creek to a building lot.

"That would still be the property of the owner," Gorman said.

Gorman and fellow supervisor Christopher Firme are reviewing a model ordinance and drafting a version for the township. That ordinance would go before the remaining supervisors for feedback and be made available for review by the public and various organizations.

"We have come up with a draft, which will eventually have to be reviewed by John Lisko, our solicitor," Firme said.

The Ambler, Pa., campus of Temple University, which runs The Center for Sustainable Communities, cites information in its materials that says more than half of riparian and wetland zones in the continental United States have been destroyed.

In April of 2006, the nonprofit Center for Watershed Protection issued a favorable report for the 52-square-mile watershed associated with the east branch of the Antietam Creek. Officials encouraged the township to continue to advocate for environmentally sensitive design in new development.

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