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Londonderry vote paves way for 230 development; logistics facilities, mini-warehouses, business parks likely

By Laura Hayes

laurahayes@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 9/11/19

Dave Gibbs’ home on Hertzler Road in Londonderry Township overlooks cornfields.

The road is named after his wife’s grandfather who farmed the land for more than 80 years.

But …

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Londonderry vote paves way for 230 development; logistics facilities, mini-warehouses, business parks likely

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Dave Gibbs’ home on Hertzler Road in Londonderry Township overlooks cornfields.

The road is named after his wife’s grandfather who farmed the land for more than 80 years.

But Gibbs soon might have a different view out his front door.

On Sept. 3, the Londonderry Board of Supervisors unanimously approved two zoning amendments that will clear the way for the development of three tracts of land off Route 230 — including the tract behind Ed’s Landscaping and in front of Gibbs’ home.

“With this proposal, I’m going to be looking at semis and lights all night long. I won’t be able to see the stars like I do now,” Gibbs said.

He already lives less than a mile from the Conewago Industrial Park. The lights from the park, he said, can be seen throughout the township.

But while he said he was opposed to the development of the tract for selfish reasons, “I also understand the need of the township to generate income,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs was one of about 30 people who spoke during a 2 1/2-hour public hearing that the supervisors held prior to unanimously voting on the zoning ordinance amendments during their regular meeting Sept. 3. Residents voiced both support and concerns about the project.

The amendments expanded the C-2 commercial district and added conditional uses within the district, including logistics facilities like warehouses and distribution facilities; mini-warehouses and storage unit facilities and business parks.

What this means, according to township solicitor Mark Stewart: In a zone, there are specific uses that the property owner has the right to use. By contrast, these are conditional uses, meaning the developer must file a petition with the supervisors, who would then consider granting the petition.

The previous zoning ordinance was adopted in 1979.

“We structured it this way in order to maximize the township’s position and hopefully produce it for the best possible result,” Stewart said.

Two developers — Core5 Industrial Partners and Vision Group Ventures — want to develop three tracts in the township along the Route 230 corridor — the land behind Ed’s Landscaping, the northern portion of the former Lytle Farms neighborhood development just east of the Swatara Creek, and the former School Heights Village housing development near Saturday’s Market.

“They both have projects in mind that would entail essentially logistics centers or distribution centers or warehousing, whatever term you want to put on it,” Stewart said.

As part of this, Core5 and Vision Group Ventures have offered $15 million to help install public sewer. In the background of this conversation is Londonderry’s Act 537 plan. Municipalities — such as Londonderry — are required to develop a sewage facilities plan under the 1966 Pennsylvania Sewage Facilities Act, known as Act 537.

The township plan said there were malfunctioning on-lot disposal systems in the township, particularly in the Londonderry Estates housing development and Sewer District No. 3.

The plan called for public sewer to be constructed in Londonderry Estates and in Sewer Districts No. 2 and 3 (based on the results of pumping and inspecting the on-lot disposal systems).

Londonderry Estates’ public sewer is to be operational by 2021, and a public sewer running along the entire Route 230 by 2026. Bringing public sewer is estimated to cost a total of $27.5 million.

The 537 plan said bringing public sewer to districts two and three isn’t economically feasible as a stand-alone project, but “becomes more feasible with developer contributions and with favorable funding.”

‘It’s just preliminary’

Stewart said Londonderry’s philosophy is to try to preserve the agricultural and rural character for the majority of the township by concentrating development along Route 230.

Vision Group Ventures is interested in developing the land behind Ed’s Landscaping, and Core5 plans to develop the northern part of the Lytle tract and the former School Heights Village. Township manager Steve Letavic said some of the developers already have occupants for the warehouses.

Stewart said a third developer is still interested in turning the southern portion of the Lytle land into a traditional neighborhood development, but it hinged on the other land being developed.

Core5 Director of Development Brian Reisinger told the Press & Journal that he wasn’t sure when plans would be submitted to the township.

“At this point, it’s just preliminary, and we’re starting to work on things,” he said.

Vision Group Ventures did not return requests for comment.

According to Stewart, the projects would have to meet specific conditions, such as building heights limited to 40 feet, but could go up to 55 feet if additional setbacks are built in, and setbacks would have to be larger if the property was near a residential district. Loading and unloading areas have to be designed so that trucks aren’t backed up onto public roads, and one suggestion for traffic minimization would be to have access onto streets like Route 230 without using local streets.

According to Stewart, trucks from the northern Lytle development would use Vine Street in Middletown to get to Route 283, traffic from the former School Heights Village would go to Toll House Road and trucks from the development north of Ed’s Landscaping would use the Elizabethtown interchange.

When resident Bob Pistor asked how people can stay involved, Letavic said to come to planning commission meetings.

“Planning commission reviews those plans and are working through that process,” he said.

Board Chairwoman Anna Dale said the commission is where the buffer and other impacts such as lights get ironed out.

“It’s not something that just happens that we vote on this tonight and it goes through and the developer is here next week with some kind of plan. It is a very long process,” Dale said.

DEP involvement and sewers

Stewart said the township had hoped that the proposed traditional neighborhood development plans — Lytle Farms and School Heights Village initially were supposed to be housing — would provide the township with resources to bring the sewer, but the projects didn’t materialize.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, he said, “has indicated that it will not grant an extension for the completion of these tasks. Extensions have already been provided and there are no more to be had.”

John Repetz, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection community relations coordinator, told the Press & Journal in an email that it is up to each municipality to select its course of action in the 537 plan. Minor delays aren’t uncommon, he said. The DEP wants to see that the municipality is working on its plan.

DEP rarely has to resort to enforcement to compel an implementation of an Act 537 plan.

“The usual course of action includes a letter followed by an administrative order to implement the plan. In lieu of implementing its plan, a municipality can opt to update or amend the plan to provide for a different alternative to address the identified needs. In the most severe cases, DEP can petition Commonwealth Court to enforce the order to implement. At that time, the matter becomes an order of the court and failure to comply could result in contempt of court charges,” Repetz said. 

Letavic, at a previous meeting, said that if the township violated a consent decree from the DEP, “they put your elected officials in prison. That’s what they do. Seriously.”

What’s the cost to residents?

Stewart said the township is losing tax money and other financial help from Three Mile Island closing this month. Plus, there is annual road maintenance he said the township cannot fully fund.

The township, Stewart said, faces a tough choice — increase revenues by increasing the tax base or raise taxes.

The three projects, he said, would generate $1.3 million in reality transfer tax and $675,000 in annual property taxes.

During the meeting, Stewart said taxes would have to increase annually for residents by $377 for 30 years. Resident Tom Thorpe pointed out that it would be a dollar more a day.

“I don’t think $377 is a lot of money to have the option to keep our community as rural as we might like to keep it,” Thorpe said.

Stewart then clarified that that wasn’t how the money would actually be collected.

“We need the money now to build the sewer,” he said.

In an interview, Supervisor Mel Hershey said it would actually be about $1,200 a year on a home valued at $100,000.

“People like me couldn’t afford to live in Londonderry,” he said.

Connecting to sewer

Residents also would incur a cost for connecting to the public sewer, and Londonderry officials said it typically costs $14,000 to $18,000.

Low-interest loans are available through the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture offers grants, township officials said.

Stewart said typically if a resident is within 150 feet, they have to connect to public sewer. Whether that can be optional and not a requirement has to be discussed with the Derry Township Municipal Authority, Stewart said.

Letavic said the township is working on an intermunicipal agreement with Derry Township Municipal Authority.

Township engineer Andrew Kenworthy said residents would also be responsible to stop using the septic system on the property.

Londonderry also has been working on bringing public water to the township since 2012. It is not required to connect to it, Letavic said.

In an email, Letavic said it has been funding the water in sections using grants and contributions from Pennsylvania-American Water. The extension began on Vine Street near the intersection of the Swatara Creek Road and the border of Hershey.

“The waterline has made steady progress down Swatara Creek Road on its way to the corner of the Lytle Farm, and we expect that the last section will be completed by next spring,” he said.