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Washington Township, siblings at odds over mountain land

October 03, 2008|By JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Seventeen acres of donated land on Mount Dunlop might not be enough to change some Washington Township Supervisors' distaste for a housing development plan.

Charles S. Gardner III and Letitia Gardner want to build 12 houses on 72 acres of forested land they own adjacent to the Appalachian Trail in Blue Ridge Summit, Pa.

To do so, they need the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to allow them to use the Fort Ritchie Access Road previously limited to military and emergency use. Earlier restrictions on the road left the Gardner property essentially landlocked.

The supervisors previously wrote a letter to PennDOT supporting the Gardners' use of the road. Back then, the supervisors believed that just one house would be built.

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"There's no way I would have agreed to a letter with more than one house on that ridgeline," Supervisor John Gorman said at Wednesday's supervisors workshop meeting.

Gorman, whose concern is with the six houses planned at the highest elevation of the ridge, described "holes punched in this ridgeline." He does not want to change the view of the mountain from elsewhere in the community.

Now, the supervisors have been asked to write another letter to PennDOT, asking the state agency to continue the process of opening the road to the Gardners. That would involve PennDOT selling some of its land.

The latest letter would be needed for an Oct. 16 meeting with PennDOT.

The Gardners - who said they share the supervisors' desire to maintain the view of the mountaintop - agreed to donate 16.7 acres for permanent preservation. Also, they drafted deed restrictions that each housing lot not be cleared more than one acre.

"By limiting it to an acre, the township effectively controls 70 percent of this land," said Tim Misner, an attorney representing the Gardners.

"We think an acre is reasonable," said R. Lee Royer, a surveyor for the project.

Gorman and Supervisor Christopher Firme pushed for greater protection of the ridge, with Firme mentioning the South Mountain Initiative for land conservation.

"If you want to protect it, why don't you buy it instead of taking it?" Misner asked.

"How much?" Supervisor Carroll Sturm asked.

Ten thousand dollars an acre, Charles Gardner responded.

The Gardner family earlier donated 73 acres along Pa. 16 to the township to create Happel's Meadow Wetland Preserve.

"We have spent a lot of time thinking over this. ... I think we worked out a plan that's fair to us and very fair to the public," Charles Gardner said.

"My biggest concern would be the visual impact in Blue Ridge Summit," Gorman said.

"Architecture itself can be attractive to see," Supervisor Stephen Kulla said, saying he'd expect the homes to be upscale considering the lot sizes.

Kulla said that he respects the Gardners' right to develop their land. He also favors working with the family to minimize the development's impact, rather than straining the relationship and creating the possibility they could take the project in a different direction.

Gorman said he hopes to walk the site this weekend to further evaluate it. The supervisors said they'll make a decision on the PennDOT letter Monday and asked Township Manager Mike Christopher to draft two versions, one in favor and one opposing the idea.

A memo to the supervisors stated that the Gardners plan to pursue talks with PennDOT regardless of the supervisors' decision.

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