THE ABINGTION JOURNAL
January 13, 2010
Opposing views of SAPA
Feedback from residents, farmers, officials.
By Gerard Hetman
While the communities involved in the Scranton-Abingtons Planning Association, better known as SAPA, continue to adopt the legislation, residents who are skeptical of the plan continue to push for investigations and public action on the matter. After several years of discussion and development, the SAPA plan has been adopted by nine of the 11 member communities in the plan. This includes the Townships of Abington, Glenburn, Newton, South Abington and West Abington; and the Boroughs of Clarks Summit, Clarks Green, Dunmore and Dalton. As of this writing, only the City of Scranton and the Borough of North Abington Township have yet to approve the plan.
As described on http://www.sapaplan.com, the SAPA Comprehensive Plan was created to set policies, guidelines, and standards for land development, conservation and economic initiatives.
Newton Township resident and community activist Sal Pileggi has been a critic of the plan as it has continued to be adopted by the involved municipalities. In a recent interview, Pileggi spoke about his attempt to have state legislators, including State Senator Robert Mellow and State Representative Jim Wansacz, launch an investigation into the legality of the SAPA plan. Pileggi claimed that changes in zoning policies as outlined in the plan will greatly decrease the property value of his land due to what he sees as restrictions that will be placed on development if the plan is implemented. More details can be found on his web site, http://www.newtonpa.com.
When reached for comment via his Peckville office, Wansacz confirmed that his office had been in contact with Pileggi and was reviewing his concerns, but stressed that the plan was an issue that ultimately rested in the hands of government officials in the member municipalities. At press time, Senator Mellow did not respond a message left with his staff seeking comment on the issue.
From the perspective of local officials who represent their communities on the SAPA Board, the plan offers advantages for the constituents of their municipalities. That is expressed by Ron Koldjeski, who represents Newton Township on the SAPA board. Claiming that his municipality cannot afford to invest in a sewer system that would be required for commercial and industrial development, Koldjeski believes that involvement in the plan will help Newton to maintain its status as a “rural, agriculture-based community.”
“Our biggest concern was development in areas of the township that cannot support commercial or industrial purposes- we could not, from a financial standpoint, afford to be forced into the sewer business,” Koldjeski said of the plan. “Also, this gives us an opportunity to update our zoning in the township, but we are not giving up any municipal authority to any other agency.”
While Koldjeski and his counterparts in other SAPA municipalities are eager to press ahead to implement the plan, some residents have reservations about how the plan will impact their communities. One is Keith Eckel, who has operated a 1,500-acre farm in Newton township for more than three decades. While Eckel is eager to express his appreciation and enthusiasm for farmland preservation, he also insists that the financial value of farmland must be protected, in order to allow farmers to conduct business and maintain their livelihoods. In particular, Eckel pointed to issues in the plan with regard to wetland preservation, which he feels may reduce the amount of land his business currently uses.
“No one believes more strongly in farmland preservation than me, but that preservation must also be based on economic reality,” said Eckel, past President of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau from 1981 to 1996. “I understand the benefits of regional planning, especially for agriculture, but our land must have the highest use value that we can have. That is essential to our livelihood as farmers.”
“I have not seen or read the final version of the plan as it currently stands, but I don’t believe we should all rush to pass this and implement everything, considering the impact it can have on local businesses.”
Cindy Campbell, a community planner with the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development in Scranton, and her staff have worked closely with the SAPA plan since the alliance was first formed. She believes that several optional “tools” that exist in the SAPA plan can be of tremendous use to landowners. Included in this category are policies such as conservation by design/conservation subdivision, as well as transferable development rights. If used properly, Campbell explained that such policies can preserve, and even increase, property values in member municipalities.
“One of the benefits of having Scranton and Dunmore is the ability to shift growth centers and employment centers to Scranton and Dunmore, because the rural communities wanted to stay rural. Campbell said of the SAPA agreement, “Under the Municipalities Planning Code, a municipality must provide zoning for every use in every municipality. By doing a multi-municipal plan, you are able to spread out all the zoning uses using all of the municipalities that have adopted that plan.”
She added, “A farming person, who may feel that their land is not as valuable, have options under this plan to protect their property.”
According to Campbell, transferable development rights are one such option. Such rights, under the municipal planning code, would allow rural landowners to sell the right to develop different types of projects on their land to an area where that type of development would be more useful. While the landowner would continue to live on the land in its existing condition, the development rights would be transferred to an area where the corresponding development would be more useful.