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West Cornwall Township supervisors on Monday closed a public hearing on a township-wide update to the existing zoning ordinance.
Township supervisors Russell Gibble, David Lloyd, and Dennis Tulli now have 90 days to vote on the revocation of the existing zoning ordinance and map and the adoption of the new ones.
At 6:30 p.m. Aug. 8, township solicitor Anthony Fitzgibbons, accompanied by Eric Gibson from his law office, opened the hearing at the Quentin Volunteer Fire Company, 20 S. Lebanon St.
The public hearing was required in accordance with the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code, as West Cornwall Township is attempting to legislate a new zoning ordinance. The new ordinance is a comprehensive rewrite.
“This effort was undertaken for a variety of reasons. One of which was the ordinance I don’t believe had been comprehensively looked at in probably 40 years or more,” Fitzgibbons said. “And a vast, vast majority of uses within the township are characterized as conditional uses, which is a use by right, but it requires a hearing before the board of supervisors. And quite frankly, for anything other than large uses, had become very unwieldy and expensive not only for the applicants but for the township.
“The thought was to streamline it to bring it back into compliance with the more modern reality of what we’re experiencing.”
When the supervisors decided to pursue the zoning update last summer, they commissioned township engineer Jeffrey Steckbeck to obtain proposals. Supervisors deemed Gannett Fleming a reputable independent planner and hired Michelle Brummer and Shawn Rairigh last October.
“Gannett Fleming’s proposal not only was the lowest price, but Brummer brings with her experience as having been the author of the Cornwall-Lebanon Regional Comprehensive Plan, which was a process that concluded in 2013. So, she was very familiar not only with West Cornwall, but Cornwall, North Cornwall, South Lebanon, and North Lebanon,” Steckbeck said.
At that time last October, the supervisors decided to take a team approach. The team consisted of three supervisors, five planning commission members, and three zoning hearing board members, who were the voting members of the team.
“It was interesting to spend several workshop meetings with those that have been identified: the board of supervisors, the planning commission, and the zoning hearing board,” Brummer said. “And I can say that there was robust discussion … There was lots of discussion about the options that we presented the team with in terms of how to approach some of the issues we were trying to solve and resolve and the inconsistencies we were trying to address and so forth in the updates that we were making.”
The team had six meetings between last November and this April that were open to the public. At these meetings, local residents were permitted to attend and give their input.
Gannett Fleming also completed a walking tour in the Mount Gretna area with some people who were involved in the area.
In June of this year, the team met again for the required formal planning code public hearing. All 11 members of the team voted to forward the new zoning ordinance to the supervisors for adoption. Then, the planning commission unanimously voted to forward it to the Aug. 8 hearing.
The new ordinance incorporates recent smaller amendments. It also reflects regulations that the team reviewed and updated.
“90% of the ordinance is exactly the same as it was a year ago. There were huge sections that we weren’t touching,” Rairigh said. “And keeping that same format and organization is useful for anybody familiar with the zoning ordinance because that way they can continue to use it very easily.”
One of the updated regulations attempts to resolve the inconsistencies between zoning and actual neighborhoods. In the new ordinance, the Camp Meeting Association, which is currently zoned R2 (medium-density residential), is zoned R4 (high-density residential). According to Rairigh, the zoning change reflects the style and density of the buildings and the smallness of lots in the area.
Other zoning inconsistencies, such as differences in setbacks and height standards as well as the permittance of farm stands in certain districts, are addressed.
The team also strived to manage recent proposed developments, especially at the intersection of Route 72 and Main Street on the former Quentin Riding Club property.
The new ordinance adds a mixed use overlay to the property, which is currently zoned R1 (low-density residential). The overlay preserves the underlying zoning, giving developers the choice to base their blueprints either on the low-density residential zoning or the mixed-use allocations.
A 20% open space requirement is also established.
The team considered modernizing zoning controls, particularly uses, and constructed a set of standards for short-term rental uses, including annual zoning permits, occupancy limits, parking regulations, and posted info for tenants, as a result.
More generally, the team reviewed the standards for site lighting in an effort to preserve West Cornwall Township’s dark skies. They adjusted parking minimums and access controls where needed. The team also satisfied state planning code requirements.
“We’re trying to make it as smooth and legalized as possible,” Rairigh said. “And it’s not to say it goes without review. Your zoning officer has to approve every zoning permit, even the ones by right.”
Fitzgibbons then opened the floor for public comments.
About 15 residents in attendance voiced their views, either in support or opposition, of the new zoning ordinance.
Opposition involved the accessibility and advertisement of information about meetings regarding the zoning change and the solicitation of community input. Other concerns, such as school district capacity, quality of life for residents, and the township’s aesthetics, were presented.
“I just want to say that my husband and I attended four meetings that this board held – October, November, January, March – and I participated in the walking tour,” Linda Campbell, of Camp Meeting, said. “So I’m sorry that some people didn’t know about the public meetings, but I was here, my husband was here, and we were able to give input.”
“I was actually in Ephrata today. I was driving down 322 and saw a sandwich board, and it said zoning changes. And you could stop and read the board, or you could go online and look up the information,” Sherrie Leinhauser, of West Cornwall Township, said. “That’s all we’re asking for.”
According to its builder S. Gerald Musser, Scenic Ridge at Cornwall is a new community with 75 home sites that have “gorgeous views of both farmland and mountains.”
“I’m here representing 102 signatures from Scenic Ridge,” Tom Whittle, of Scenic Ridge, said. “And our position and our request for consideration by the township is we believe that a change from two-story garden apartments … to three-stories is not reflective of what’s built in the area.”
Whittle said he believes the change doesn’t comply with the intent of either the old or the new zoning ordinance.
Scenic Ridge residents felt the zoning changes would benefit a proposed development between Route 419 and Route 322.
“So are we representing the future people of the township, or are we representing the current people of the township?” Bruce Fields, of Scenic Ridge, rhetorically asked.
Steckbeck responded to multiple Scenic Ridge residents’ concerns about three-story buildings, saying that the number of units per acre, or density, stays the same regardless of whether buildings are two- or three-stories.
“I’ve lived in this town for 74 years, a lot longer than any of you,” Rick Heisey, of West Cornwall Township, said. “I did not like the fact that you guys are living where I used to go hunting. Now I can’t do that. I used to sit on the back porch. I could watch the sunset. I can’t watch that anymore. Did I complain and gripe about this? No.”
Heisey continued, “Here’s your option: There’s 75 houses. You all get together. Divide the land. You smile, but if you don’t do that, somebody’s going to buy it, and you’re probably not going to like it, and there’s nothing you can do.”
Bill Matthews, president of the Quentin Water Company, shared some of Heisey’s notions.
“You know, things are what they are. I’ve been here for almost 76 years. If I could trade Quentin when I was 25 for Quentin now, I’d take it back in a heartbeat,” Matthews said. “… I think the whole system is better if it keeps building. The actual water system will get even better and better. But there is water. That’s not a problem.”
The hearing adjourned a few minutes after 8 p.m.
Once the supervisors approve the new ordinance, they will have to submit a final version along with a transmittal letter to the Lebanon County Planning Committee.
The board of supervisors’ next regularly scheduled meeting will be on Sept. 12. If the zoning update is an action item at the upcoming meeting, it will be listed on the agenda. The agenda will be posted at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting.
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