Township ponders 255-home development County planning commission opposed to necessary zoning amendment

By on September 26, 2012

By: GARY P. KLINGER Record Express Correspondent, Staff Writer

Big changes could be around the corner from the Heart of Lancaster … literally. That could be the case if an amendment to the Warwick Township zoning ordinance is passed which could bring a sizable development of homes marketed for people over age 55 to portions of the Buckwalter Farm.

Nathan Jameson of Traditions of America led township officials through the reasoning for the proposed zoning changes along with detailed plans for the development concept during a Sept. 19 public hearing at the Warwick Township municipal building.

The amendment would rezone a 60 acre tract of land located on the north side of West Millport Road and west of Hess Lane from (A) Agricultural to (R-2) Residential; and the adjacent tract containing 23.018 acres from (A) Agricultural to (R-1) Residential. The changes would also authorize moderate density age-restricted development as a conditional use approval in the R-2 district.

A report issued by the Lancaster County Planning Commission recommends the proposed amendment not be passed by township officials, stating that such a development did not fit with county growth zone objectives. However, Jameson provided reasons why his organization feels it does.

Planned is a moderate density age restrictive property with up to 255 new homes on 60 acres. Jameson presented those in attendance with a brief video detailing what living in a Traditions of America community is like. The firm prides itself with creating a sense of family within its communities, with amenities such as a community center, fitness center, pool, bocce ball court and walking trails. Marketed to educated professionals, some of whom are still actively working in their careers, the community would offer residents freedom of choices with creative environments.

Entrance and arrival to the community would be accessed on Newport Road with a boulevard entrance. Jameson said many communities are gated, although it was not clear whether that would be the case with this project. It would boast a clubhouse and large green behind the clubhouse, all aimed at making the community a landmark and feature in the broader Lititz community.

Seventy percent of the homes would be single family detached with the balance being semi-detached.

"We are not just marketing a model home," said Jameson. "We work hard to make it truly a home."

Traditions of America was founded in 1997 as a customer-focused business to develop community and homes for 55+ buyer.

"Their dreams and desires are different," added Jameson. "With 17 communities already completed or in process, this would be our 18th."

Jameson noted that Traditions of America is the fourth largest builder in Pennsylvania and boasts 83 awards both regionally and nationally.

There has been much talk over the past several years about potential uses for the Buckwalter property, but to-date none have come this close to actuality.

What makes the proposed project a hit with local residents, as well as the members of the Buckwalter family, is the proximity to so many local businesses: from the Giant and SKH grocery stores to Target, restaurants, Starbucks and a hair salon — all within walking distance. Being near the Heart of Lancaster Regional Medical Center adds to the reasons the project may be right for that tract of land.

In fact, according to Jameson, the average distance from the development to most of these businesses is 0.6 miles and would definitely be supported by trails for use by pedestrians and bicycle riders.

The stated purpose of R-2 zoning is to accommodate higher density housing and encourage a range of housing types.

"Residential use of the property just makes the most sense," noted Jameson. "It fits the test of ‘what is the greatest and best use’ of the land and makes sense in reducing traffic areas."

Township officials seemed intrigued by the concept presented. In fact, while none seemed to oppose the proposed zoning changes, supervisor David Kramer did request more time to consider all the information presented prior to holding a vote on the matter, tabling it until the Oct. 3 supervisors meeting.

"I think it is a fine approach, but I would just like the opportunity, considering all the info before us, to compare the planning commission comments and proposed conditions with commitment," noted Kramer.

The Lancaster County Planning Commission recommended disapproval of the proposed changes to the zoning map and zoning text amendment over a number of different concerns. It felt the proposal was not consistent with the key planning goals of that area of the county and felt the text amendment was redundant to existing language in the township zoning code.

Jameson, however, made a compelling case that the county planners actually make a better argument for approval than even the developer could have made. Specifically, he pointed to the fact that residential development would take place over a five year period, whereas industrial development could take up to 30 years to reach fruition. In addition, he showed data that the assessed value of the proposed homes versus the use of the land for commercial purposes, saying it would yield a significantly better impact on township tax revenues.

Public opinion expressed by those present seemed largely supportive of the proposed project. Bill Grosh questioned storm water management plans, but said it was a great location in relation to shopping.

Supervisor Chairman Logan Myers explained that considerations for aspects of the project such as storm water management would be made in time as the developer moves the community through the various stages of planning prior to groundbreaking. Traditions of America would ideally like to begin breaking ground sometime in the middle of next year.

"There have been studies of vacancy rates in other retirement communities," noted local resident Robin Talley. "Are we really going to be able to fill this to occupancy? We should be looking at this if we already have a large occupancy rate and we’re looking to put in another community."

Jay Vance was among local residents impressed with the plan.

"I’m much more in favor of this type of development than something more commercial," said Vance. More DEVELOPMENT, page A6

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