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1617 Newville Road West Pennsboro Township map

In June 2016, township supervisors voted to rezone roughly 130 acres of land located from 1525 to 1617 Newville Road in the township zoned agriculture to industrial to make way for the development of two 725,000-square-foot warehouses at the request of Allen Distribution.

The rezoning of two West Pennsboro farms to make way for warehousing has been overturned on appeal.

West Pennsboro’s Zoning Hearing Board, convened to adjudicate the challenge to the rezoning, voted 3-0 Thursday night in favor of the appellants, the attorneys involved were told.

“It was a vote to grant the relief requested in my appeal … meaning they rendered their vote to invalidate the ordinance that changed the zoning to industrial,” said attorney Nathan Wolf, who challenged the re-zoning on behalf of several adjacent homeowners.

The re-zoning had been requested by Allen Distribution and was approved by the West Pennsboro Township Board of Supervisors this year, spurring the appeal.

Allen Distribution could itself appeal the Zoning Hearing Board’s decision to the court system. The attorney representing the company, Hubert Gilroy, said that determination will be made once the Zoning Hearing Board submits its written decision next week, as only a verbal decision had been conveyed Thursday night.

“We won’t be making any determination until we see the written decision next week,” Gilroy said. “We have to see their rationale before we determine what to do.”

The case revolves around the re-zoning of two farm parcels along Newville Road (Route 641) from residential to industrial use. If favorably re-zoned, Allen Distribution has planned a warehouse site north of Newville Road and immediately west of Meadowbrook Road.

The east side of Meadowbrook already has a significant warehousing and industrial campus, but the west side, as well as the north side of Newville Road, has small residential lots located alongside it that would be sandwiched by a warehouse complex being built up against their backyards.

The appeal, as argued by Wolf, centers on the concept of “spot zoning,” alleging that the West Pennsboro supervisors’ decision constituted as such, and was thus illegal.

Spot zoning involves the creation of land use zones that are tailored specifically to the interest of a particular property, inconsistent with the interest of the community as a whole, thus creating an “island” of zoning rights.

In the West Pennsboro case, Wolf argued, the township made allowances to rezone the land for warehouse use simply because a warehouse use was put on the table, even though the change is contrary to the core concept of zoning, which is to protect the public welfare by preventing conflict between different landowners’ uses of their property.

Previous iterations of the township’s comprehensive plan, as well as traffic studies, Wolf argued, showed that an increase in warehousing use along Route 641 was not supported by existing public infrastructure and land-use patterns.

Following the decision, Wolf said that the case now presents an interesting issue. While the township’s supervisors agreed to Allen Distribution’s rezoning request, the zoning hearing board has said, in essence, that they should not have.

If the developer appeals the case, it will not be a court challenge to Wolf’s clients, Wolf said, but a challenge to the zoning hearing board’s decision to overturn the supervisors’ decision, thus pitting the findings of one group of West Pennsboro officials against the findings of the other.

“It’s an interesting situation because the law is not clear that I could even intervene in that appeal,” Wolf said. “If the way it plays out is that my clients want to have me assist in the zoning hearing board’s defense of their decision, I will do that, but it puts us in a more detached position.”

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Cumberland County/Investigative Reporter

Reporter for The Sentinel.