This article was funded by LebTown donors as part of our Civic Impact Reporting Project.
Concerned citizens wrapped around the North Lebanon Township building Monday as the meeting room was packed to the brim. The topic of concern? A possible Jubilee development in the township.
After Jubilee held a neighbor’s meeting May 23, many residents became concerned about the possible site of Jubilee Ministries’ new headquarters at 420 E. Kercher Ave.
The rough plans presented at the neighbor’s meeting include an approximately 45,000-square-foot processing center for donations, potentially a small office building, and a ministry building intended to house 45 to 70 students in Jubilee’s aftercare program. However, no plans have been submitted to the township as of now.
Notably, the property is zoned agricultural. Jubilee stated it is considering applying for a zoning text amendment to allow the above uses in an agricultural district. For this amendment to pass, the Board of Supervisors would need to hold a public hearing and pass the amendment with at least two out of three votes.
While the supervisors cannot say definitively how they plan to vote before anything reaches their desk, they each made brief comments regarding the development when pressed.
“It takes two votes,” said Vice-Chairman Gary Heisey. “I don’t see two votes, and I’m not one of the votes to pass it.”
“You folks have rung the bell loudly,” said Chairman Ed Brensinger. “Based on what they told us, and what I’ve seen and heard tonight, I’d be a fool if I voted for that.”
“I was elected to represent the people,” said Treasurer Ardy Snook, “and for me, it’s easy.”
While the township was made aware at its planning commission meeting last week that a large number of attendees would come to Monday’s meeting, it was too late to change the venue, as meetings must be advertised, including their locations, well in advance.
Heisey promised that should the Jubilee development reach the point of a public hearing, it will be held in a much larger venue.
Public comment regarding Jubilee went on for over two hours, including many who signed up to speak in advance and some who did not. Solicitor Amy Leonard said the comments were “entirely premature,” as no plans have been submitted to the township and Jubilee was not an agenda item.
Common concerns voiced included the safety of nearby residents, including seniors and children, property value decreases, and potential environmental impacts.
“We wanna let you know we’re serious,” said resident Michael Michaels. “We’re not going away. We feel very strongly this is an inappropriate project.
Other comments included Dauphin County law enforcement officer Brandon Pokrop, who said he checked Megan’s Law and Jubilee Ministries is currently housing a man charged with child pornography. He also expressed concerns about students leaving the property.
“According to program rules, they are allowed to leave the property as long as they sign in and sign out,” said Pokrop. “The rural landscape is not suitable for constant pedestrian traffic.”
Not all comments were negative. A few people, such as resident Jennifer Gingrich, spoke in favor of the development.
“Everyone in here knows someone that has an addiction problem,” she said. “Everyone wants to throw all these people away, but they’re beautiful people just like everyone else, and they deserve a second chance.”
However, the few positive comments were met with pushback from the overall crowd. The majority of those in attendance, based on cheers and applause for different comments, appeared to be in opposition to the development.
Others voiced concerns about how the township has handled the development. While township manager Cheri Grumbine first became aware of the plans Dec. 6, most residents weren’t aware of the plans until the neighbor’s meeting.
“The person on the other end of the phone did their darndest to stop me from signing up,” said resident Steve Morris, who signed onto the agenda as a public comment. “This stuff gets snuck in under the table, and we don’t hear about it until it’s too dang late.
“You guys have a lot of power. The power belongs out here, not up there.”
Around the meeting’s conclusion, Grumbine responded to repeated allegations made against her throughout the meeting. She said she is required to discuss possible projects with property owners, regardless of how she or the community feels about the projects.
She also said she does not, nor has she ever, had any say regarding whether zoning text amendments or land development plans are passed.
If and when a zoning text amendment request is received, supervisors will have the option of continuing to a public hearing or denying/ignoring the request at that time.
LebTown will continue to cover developments in this story.
North Lebanon supervisors meet at the township municipal building on the third Monday of each month at 7 p.m. The meetings are open to the public and do not require prior registration.
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