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Letter to the editor , dailylocal.com                                                                                        

December 18, 2001 

By NEIL H. HEINEMAN, Guest Columnist

The article titled "Tree stand-off - E. Coventry tells farm to take down signs" (DLN, Dec. 5, 2001), and the numerous articles concerning Landscapes, brought to mind the problems associated with farming, zoning and Landscapes.

Sadsbury Township signed up for Landscapes in 1997. Work began in 1998 and we adopted a zoning ordinance this October. It took four years of dedicated work by our zoning task force (Sadsbury Township Planning Commission) and the consultants from the county. As supervisors' chairman during that period, I contributed to the debates and authored the rural residential section of the new ordinance. Following are some of the major problems with the implementation of Landscapes.

Landscapes sounds like a marvelous idea: clustered homes on small lots leave a lot of open space. However, it is complicated.

Small lots, where there is no public sewer, require a community sewer system. The county health department and the state's Department of Environmental Protection are the sole agencies to approve sewer systems. Townships can't require a system be made more efficient than the agency regulations. However, if the system should fail, the township is required to take it over, resulting in enormous costs.

In the maintenance of open space property there are no perfect solutions. It has been the experience of this township that a homeowners' association is only as solvent as the property owners. If the association fails, we will have to take over the duties. We also retain the option to have the open space deeded to us. Whether the township initially accepts open space, or received it in default, it requires large amounts of township funds to maintain. The other alternative is a land trust, but most trusts do not want small parcels and there is the real concern that the trust could eliminate usage of this land.

Landscape's emphasis is on open space. Since most large parcels are or have been farms, why not emphasize retaining the farmstead instead of open space? This solution allows the farm to continue and eliminates maintenance. This is the emphasis I put into the rural residential ordinance that I wrote. Along with promoting the farmstead, there should be relief from restrictions including temporary signs for seasonal activities, sale of Christmas trees, farm goods, etc. I believe East Coventry Township should be bending over backwards to help a person that is maintaining open land at no cost to the township.

There is a major flaw in the government critique for acquiring development rights. A property zoned for high-density housing receives a bonus while a property zoned for agriculture or low density housing is paid less. This situation needs to be reversed to protect the farmland now while waiting for the purchase of development rights. Until this is accomplished you will find the farmers extremely upset by any zoning that causes less dense development.

Landscapes requires that cluster development be by right and conventional development be by conditional use. Conditional use is a valuable negotiating tool the supervisors can use to obtain more benefits for both current and future residents. There are many more critical situations that can arise in a cluster development than conventional development. The conditional use process can be extremely beneficial when considering a cluster development and its inherent complications.

Landscapes wants to give the developer a density bonus for using the cluster development. In our minds, the bonus the developer receives for installing a cluster development is the lack of infrastructure required to build the development. There are fewer streets, less utility installation and less landscaping.

The last problem with cluster development: a lot of people still have the American dream of their own acre or two. Until the mainstream emphasis is on tiny lots, I do not believe that Landscapes will be a total success.

I must mention that the Chester County Planning Commission's advisors to the task force worked hard and bent over backwards to work with the township. I am extremely thankful for the hard work of the Sadsbury Township and Chester County planning commissions.

The writer lives in Sadsbury and is chairman of the Sadsbury Board of Supervisors.

İDaily Local News 2001


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Last modified: 12/01/07