West Pennsboro Township officials are scheduled to meet Monday night to conclude last month’s debate over re-zoning to permit additional warehouses along Route 641.
Much of the public hearing in May revolved around a like or dislike of warehouses as a concept, with nearby residents citing their traffic, noise and unsightliness, and developers citing jobs and an increased tax base.
But the decision reached Monday evening, whatever it is, will depend on whether or not the township feels it can justify rezoning residential-class land for a use that it was not previously designated for, at least formally.
“When they bought their home, my clients basically looked around them and said ‘well, if this is as close as (the warehouses) can get, that’s okay” said attorney Nathan Wolf. “Now, they’re furious. They feel like they were misled and they feel like the board of supervisors should show some political will and adhere to their zoning ordinances.”
Wolf represents the Smith family, who lives on the south side of Route 641, across the street from where the warehouses would go.
Warehouses are already situated along Allen Road, on the south side of Route 641 slightly to the east of the Smiths’ neighborhood, as well as on the north side of Route 641 east of Meadowbrook Road.
The new proposed site consists of two farm parcels, with a combined size of roughly 133 acres, according to Cumberland County’s property maps. Those farms had previously been zoned for residential use, and the Smiths thus expected that more housing would be going in across the street—not warehouses, Wolf said.
Warehouses are, naturally, not permitted structures in residential zones. The properties’ buyer, Allen Distribution, is requesting re-zoning of the parcels to an industrial zone in order to allow development.
The fact that West Pennsboro would entertain re-zoning in order to permit a specific project, Wolf said, smells of what is known as spot zoning, a practice that has been held up as verboten in many state and federal courts.
“The whole idea of spot zoning is that it’s zoning to cater to one potential user even if it does not fit in with the overall scheme and needs of the area,” Wolf said.
As of the county’s last planning update, Wolf said, West Pennsboro had not expressed any need to update its zoning plan for the township.
“They were saying earlier in the year that they had no intent to make changes to the (zoning) map,” Wolf said. “The state’s municipal planning code gives townships pretty wide authority to make amendments to that map, but those are changes that are supposed to reflect a grander scheme where there have been dramatic changes in the needs of the community over time.”
But Hubert Gilroy, attorney for Allen Distribution, argued the re-zoning was a necessary update since the neighborhood’s nature had already changed.
“We don’t think its spot zoning at all,” Gilroy said. “When you look at the overall picture, if you were to take an aerial tour, the area is already includes warehouses. Spot zoning is an argument used by opponents in many cases, but it often just isn’t accurate.”
Many zoning cases often end up revolving around property values, as undesirable layouts in a community generally reduce real estate prices.
“There’s no question,” Wolf said, noting that residents who bought homes when they were adjacent to a residential area will see their values drop, now that their houses are located next to an industrial zone.
Gilroy, however, pointed out that the neighborhood’s’ property values more than likely already account for warehousing, and thus a re-zoning would simply be accommodating what was already going on.
“I think the township should consider the property value factor,” Gilroy said. “However, the people on Meadowbrook already look out their front door and could hit a warehouse with a rock from there. Are the property values going to be affected any more with one behind them? I don’t see (the new project) actually changing anything.”
The West Pennsboro supervisors will meet Monday at 6 p.m. at the West Pennsboro Volunteer Fire Company, 20 Park Road, Plainfield.