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Washington Twp. supervisors vote down buffer ordinance

June 15, 2009

How they voted ...

Stephen Kulla -- no

Carroll Sturm -- no

Elaine Gladhill -- no

John Gorman -- yes

Christopher Firme -- yes

WAYNESBORO, Pa. -- Proposed water protection regulations despised by streamfront property owners were voted down in Washington Township, Pa., on Monday after lengthy debate among residents and township supervisors.

The so-called riparian buffer ordinance, which would have created 75 feet of protected land along streams, had been in the works for six years. The supervisors voted 3-2 to scrap the proposal, which would have affected people trying to develop land along waterways.

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"I'm not sure if this is correct at this point in time. ... This hearing definitely enlightened me on a lot of issues," Supervisor Elaine Gladhill said.

More than 80 residents filled the meeting room and hovered in an open doorway for almost three hours of discussion. Only two of 21 sets of comments were in favor of the plan.

Steven Mong, of Harbaugh Church Road, said he already contends with problems created by fallen branches and trees. He argued the ordinance would exacerbate those problems if landowners were required to add vegetation.

"It does not work," he said.

Charles Smetzer, of Cold Spring Road, commended the supervisors on earlier actions that supported economic growth, but he criticized the proposal they were considering.

"I'm worried if you keep adding restrictions, people are going to leave or not come here," he said. "We don't need this."

Robert Lawrence said he moved to Marsh Road from Maryland because of "rules, taxes and more rules" in Maryland.

"I own that property, no one else. What right do you people have as elected officials to tell me not to mow?" he asked.

"I think you just need to allow us to take care of the streams on our properties ourselves," said Larry Pentz, who lives on Birchwood Lane.

Rex Benchoff, an engineer who lives on Pen Mar Road, started by addressing how wetlands delineation changes often when reviewed by different officials.

"I want to ensure you there are six or seven agencies you have to go through to do things in these areas. ... I'm vehemently opposed to this thing," Benchoff said, saying changing the stream flow and prohibiting pesticides could contribute to the spread of diseases by insects.

He cautioned that several business people are upset about the changes.

"We're talking about large property values. We're talking about lawsuits when someone wants to do something and you say, gee, 150 feet or 160 feet of your property is worthless," Benchoff said.

George Colvin, of Birchwood Lane, said he predicts "hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawsuits and legal fees over the years" if the regulations passed.

"We want sound investments with our tax dollars, but this is foolishness," he said.

Antrim Faith Baptist Church's pastor, Herbert Busick, argued that his church's 25-acre property would see its value significantly diminished. If the church expanded as planned, it would be subjected to the riparian buffer rules and be inhibited by rocks on the other side.

"We lost a property, but we still have to pay taxes. ... I can see our church being dead in the water because there's no outreach or room for growth," Busick said, saying members of the congregation and guests like to picnic by the stream.

Jeffrey Geesaman recently won two parties' nominations to appear on ballots this fall in the race for supervisor. He said he's seen a riparian buffer in another county.

"It's not an answer to all. It causes as many or more problems," said Geesaman, who lives on Brookdale Drive.

The real problems are sewage and other contaminants, according to Rodney Benchoff, of Amsterdam Road.

"Are you people going to vote for property devaluations of all those affected? It's always take, take and not give," he said.

Pat O'Connor and Stephen Rettig, both active in the Antietam Watershed Association, lent their support to the plan.

"Trees on a property increase the value of a property," said O'Connor, a Lyons Road resident.

She said not everyone shows respect for their properties and neighbors by taking care of the streams.

The rules are "only beneficial. It will not take anything from anybody," O'Connor said.

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