Sunday, January 29, 2006

PC Public Hearing - Zoning Ordinance - 1/24/06

On Tuesday, January 24, 2006 Forks residents (and some non-residents too) had their first opportunity to ask the Planning Commission and their paid consultant, Charlie Schmehl from Urban Research & Development Corporation (URDC), questions about the proposed new Zoning Ordinance. This was the first of two public hearings.

It was a night of revelations; we learned what concerns Forks folks. Mostly what brought people out and made them ask questions was that some form of the new ordinance might impact them. Here are some of the asked questions:

Q. - What about a buffer between the Town Center District and my adjacent residential property?
A: There is a 70' setback requirement.

Q - What about the new 100 foot buffer requirement on my high-end manufactured home development next to a deed restricted industrial property?
A: The project has been before us for a while, there are very clear ways to proceed. (Solicitor Karl Kline in reference to the manufactured home development off of Kesslersville Road.) Attorney Danny Cohen (sic) announced that the developer (Jenks of Jacob’s Farm) filed his plan that morning (therefore, old rules).

Q. - What about the 2 acre restriction of Act 319 and my farm in the Farmland Preservation District?
A: Simple, just do a subdivision for one acre and put a conservation easement on another similar sized area of your farm. In fact you can do a whole series of one acre lots that way.

Q. What about the way sign square footage is measured?
A: For wall or neon signs, it is clarified to be the smallest rectangle or other regular geometric shape that can be drawn around the total word(s) (eg. the square footage of a rectangle around Walgreens).

Some of the features of the new Zoning Ordinance include:

  • Changes to the density allowance in all districts, notably in the FP where the minimum lot size changes from 2 acres to 3 acres unless a "cluster" plan is presented and then the lots can be one acre in size as long as 50% of the development is open space.
  • Golf courses are now allowed in the FP District.
  • No new housing will be permitted in the Town Center District.
  • Minimum lot sizes in the Heritage Corridor (Bushkill Creek) and the Riverfront Conservation (Delaware) Districts are increased to 1 acre.
  • Auto sales and auto repair are no longer allowed in the Heritage Corridor District.
  • Age restricted housing will be permanently restricted by deed and by lease.
  • Drive-through fast food restaurants are now permitted in the Employment Center Districts (with setback restrictions from residential areas and from the FP District.)
The objectives of the new ordinance as described by Schmehl are to achieve balance in land uses and to provide an adequate tax base. This ordinance intends to maintain open space and to preserve the rural nature of Forks.

The revelations? - Kings Mill, LLC was represented by Attorney Dennis Benner, the same Dennis Benner who presented the overlay zoning sketch to the Planning Commission public meeting in August. He referred to the new ordinance as "confiscatory" and as something that will prevent young people from buying homes here since they will be too expensive. He objected to the three acre lot sizes in the FP District and informed the PC that the Kings Mill partnership now owns a "material" portion (about 500 acres) of total FP acreage. He added that Kings Mill filed a plan for development of that acreage in December under the old (2 acre lot size restrictions). He said that there will by 185 houses there.

(Note: We do not know if the 185 homes and acreage designated for them is the same "alternative" plan presented in August, the permitted "by-right" plan on the 380 original acres. Or - if the new plan covers all 500 acres. Because of the time constraints invoked once a plan has been submitted for review, we anticipate that this version will come before the PC at their next meeting on February 9, 2006 at 7:30 PM. Anyone who is interested in how this comes out is urged to attend.)

And, the quote of the night: PC Chairman Vito Tamborrino after thanking Charlie Schmehl for all of his hard work over the time it took to develop the new ordinance and after saying that the main goal is open space said, "We don’t have to lay down and die in terms of people coming in here developing." The Planning Commission voted 5:0 to adopt the new ordinance as is.

It is important to note too, that projects already underway or in the hands of the Township for consideration, are still under the old zoning rules. Uses that are no longer permitted in a given district, but already exist there, are also protected. The new Zoning Ordinance applies for "new" projects only. Existing lot sizes need not be changed if they do not meet the minimum new size but projects on them must conform in every other way to the new ordinance.

The Zoning Ordinance Public Hearing before the Board of Supervisors is scheduled for Tuesday, February 7, 2006 at 7:00 PM. There will be a 30 minute informal open house in the new Municipal Building before the meeting. If you haven’t been inside yet, these meetings are good opportunities to check out the new digs. The Municipal Building (in this writers’ opinion) is very, very nice.

Please read
Sarah Mausolf’s (Express Times) and Joe Nixon’s (Morning Call) articles for more on the Planning Commission Zoning Ordinance Public Hearing.

Our objective is to relate what is experienced at Forks Township meetings for those who cannot attend. We are attempting to be as factual as we can. If we make a mistake,
tell us via email or COMMENT here in the blog, and we will do our best to correct it. We are not perfect. We want to get it right.

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