Boomers need more room: 55-plus development plans to expand; traffic and fate of 1812 farmhouse among concerns

By on August 24, 2016
Looking east toward the proposed Phase 5 for Traditions of America. The 19th century farmhouse and existing development can be seen over the crest.

Looking east toward the proposed Phase 5 for Traditions of America. The 19th century farmhouse and existing development can be seen over the crest.

Three years ago when Traditions of America, an age restricted development for those 55 and older, was first proposed no one imagined just how popular it would be.

In a just a few days in late 2013, the first phase was almost sold out before the units were even built. With a total of 244 units planned for the entire four-phase development, located near the hospital in the south side of Warwick Township, it seemed there would be plenty of homes to meet the demand.

Not quite.

At the Aug. 17 Warwick Township Board of Supervisors meeting, three public hearings were held. The one that drew the biggest crowd was for an application from Traditions of America to add a fifth phase to the original plan.

It was standing-room-only for the Phase 5 hearing, which would allow moderate density housing and another 88 units on a 24-acre tract just up the hill from the existing 60-acre development.

Most of the people at the hearing were residents of Traditions of America. A few were nearby residents who were concerned about issues like increased traffic on West Woods Drive.

Chris Venarchick of RGS Associates represented Traditions of America at the hearing and reported that demand for homes at the new development had far surpassed original expectations. Nathan Jameson of Traditions of America agreed, stating that adding Phase 5 was a natural progression.

While it looked like most people agreed, there were several issues that required more consideration from supervisors before they could give their stamp of approval. No decision was made on Wednesday, but one could be reached as soon as September.

Back in February, supervisors approved rezoning a portion of the 24 acres from partly R-1 Residential and Agricultural to R-2 Residential. That land portion is located on the south side of West Woods Drive. The 88 units being proposed would include 72 single units and 22 duplexes.

Increased traffic is an issue for neighbors on West Woods Drive, which has two hills that reduce visibility and a few curves to add to the challenge.

“The speed limit is supposed to be 35,” said Gertrude Walton, a neighbor of the development. Many drivers go much faster, she said, which makes picking up the daily mail at the edge of the road dangerous at times.

Even a few current Traditions of America residents agreed, noting that the two hills on West Woods make winter driving treacherous, and plans to access the Phase 5 portion from West Woods would be dangerous.

Tom Eiseman could attest to that, having been in a vehicle accident there. He now only drives that road at night, when he can see headlights coming as he makes the turn.

“West Woods is a dangerous road, and this would be an intrinsic danger,” he said, referring to the development expansion.

John Sparmblack, a Traditions resident, was even more emphatic, calling West Woods a “death trap,” especially for older drivers.

Another Traditions of America resident, Al Olah, stressed that it was important to have two accesses to the upper Phase 5 development to allow for better traffic flow and safety. The plan calls for an extension of Allegiance Drive, which would require residents in the upper portion to drive through winding streets in the existing development. Olah suggested that a tie-in to Hess Lane might serve as that second access. The lane is currently closed to traffic.

Emergency access is another concern, especially since residents are older. Heart of Lancaster hospital is located nearby, but access by emergency vehicles could be an issue. The proposed Phase 5 calls for emergency access off Hess Lane, but the road is only 12 feet wide. That could be a problem for ambulances, fire trucks and other emergency vehicles to get through and turn around.

“There is minimal access already,” said Traditions resident John Ulshoefer. “We have had three deaths in the development. With an older population, we should have additional access for emergency vehicles.”

Wally Campbell, head of the TOA homeowners association, suggested that access to Hess Lane should not be limited to emergencies. He also pointed out the need for a new hall that would provide more meeting space and room for activities like receptions and community dances.

The expansion of the Phase 5 plan calls for a 8,300-square-foot community building that would provide meeting areas and space for special events. It would complement the existing 7,900-square-foot clubhouse, which has a swimming pool and outdoor space.

“We don’t want it to be a split community. Not a them-and-us situation,” Ronald Swanson said, suggesting the larger facility would be great for dances and jam sessions.

This 1812 farmhouse might be demolished as part of the Phase 5 expansion of the Traditions of America 55+ development in Warwick Township.

This 1812 farmhouse might be demolished as part of the Phase 5 expansion of the Traditions of America 55+ development in Warwick Township.

Then there is the dilemma facing the 1812 brick farmhouse that sits off West Woods Drive, smack in the middle of the proposed Phase 5 of Traditions of America. The Leib family farmhouse was built at the start of the 19th century and features an old-fashioned spring in the basement for water. While the exterior of the farmhouse is in good condition, it would take some work to restore the interior.

Warwick Township manager Daniel Zimmerman reported that a local realtor was in the process of evaluating the farmhouse for its potential to be sold, and local preservationist Randy Harris will be asked to offer his opinion on the farmhouse’s historic significance.

Jameson said that if the farmhouse was sold separately, there might still be age restrictions for 55-plus to fit in with the rest of the development. Campbell recommended that the farmhouse be demolished. Zimmerman reported that if it was determined that the farmhouse should be torn down, it could be photographed and catalogued for historic records.

As for connecting Phase 5 to Hess Lane (having two access points instead of just the one on Allegiance Drive), Jameson said he would comply with that condition if it is required for approval of the plan.

“I am opposed to that condition,” he said, “but I would accommodate it.”

The other two hearings at the Aug. 17 meeting involved an application from Eagles Mere Investment LLC to install an LED-lighted billboard at 573 Furnace Hills Pike, which would be rented to advertisers; and a petition to add a portion of farmland at East Woods and Millport Road to the Warwick Township Agricultural Security Area.

Decisions are expected to be made within 45 days, possibly as early as the Sept. 21 meeting of the supervisors.

Supervisors approved two conditional use requests that were presented in July. One was for the installation of solar panels at the Target store; and the other was for an expansion at United Zion Retirement Community, seeking classification as a medical residential campus in an R-2 residential zone district.

Laura Knowles is a freelance reporter who covers the Warwick Township municipal beat for the Record Express. She welcomes reader feedback at lknowles21@gmail.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *