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SAPA Development plan raises concerns

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SAPA Development plan raises concerns

Postby Admin » Wed Jan 20, 2010 7:31 pm

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Source
The Scranton Times Tribune

January 17, 2010
Development plan raises concerns of costs, land rights
BY ERIN L NISSLEY, STAFF WRITER

Nine of the 11 communities in planning group OK proposal to map out land use

As a comprehensive plan that aims to shape future development in 11 local communities inches closer to reality, several landowners are raising concerns about how the plan may affect their ability to use and sell their property.

Nine of 11 communities involved in the Scranton Abingtons Planning Association have approved a comprehensive plan that will eventually map out issues like land use, green space conservation and future planning.  Scranton and North Abington Twp. have yet to approve the plan.

Next, participating municipalities will update their zoning ordinances to bring them in line with the spirit of the comprehensive plan.

    “It kills the value
    of my property.”

       John Roba
    North Abington Twp.
The prospect of changing ordinances has some landowners very, very nervous.  Among them is John Roba, who bought a 54-acre farm in North Abington in 1984.

While he has no intention of selling his land in North Abington, he has read through the SAPA plan and worries about what it may mean for his land's value in the future.

One of the suggestions originally contained in the comprehensive plan was a 25-acre minimum lot size for development in an agricultural zone, where his North Abington property would be located under the plan.

"It kills the value of my property," he said, adding that he believes that 25-acre lot requirement has been removed from the plan. "It would affect my borrowing power, for one thing."

Landowner Sal Pileggi has concerns about the plan, too.  He owns a 65-acre farm in Newton Twp., which will also likely be zoned for agricultural use under the SAPA plan.  His biggest fear is that the plan will limit how he or a buyer could use the land.

Under the state's municipal code, each municipality must provide space for every type of land use, from agricultural to industrial.  Some smaller communities, however, do not have the space to do that.

By developing a comprehensive plan together, communities from Scranton to West Abington Twp. will be able to provide for every type of land use as a group.

For example, Newton Twp. is largely an agricultural community and does not have the infrastructure necessary to support an industrial site, according to SAPA chairman and Newton Twp. resident Lee Jamison.  By contrast, Dunmore has several industrial sites already, some of which are not being used.

Eventually, SAPA will develop a map that will designate land uses for each member community, Mr. Jamison said.  When that map is complete, businesses looking to move to the area will be able to quickly identify potential sites.

What Mr. Pileggi is concerned about is that once an area is zoned under the SAPA plan, it will be difficult or even impossible to change the use.

"My basic concern is that what they're doing is improper," he said.  "They'll use zoning to outlaw everything they don't want, leaving no reasonable use at all."

The Newton Twp. man said he has spoken to the U.S. Department of Agriculture about his concerns, though he declined to give any details about to whom he spoke or what the response was.

Both Mr. Jamison and municipal officials say the concerns of Mr. Roba, Mr. Pileggi and other landowners are unfounded.  "The comprehensive plan is deliberately nonspecific," Mr. Jamison said.  "Zoning ordinances are up to the municipalities and each will decide what's best."

Mr. Jamison said SAPA has been very clear that any municipality that participates in the comprehensive plan retains all its rights and autonomy, including deciding whether to change zoning ordinances and add any suggested in the SAPA plan.  Several municipal officials said any zoning changes made under SAPA would be treated the same as zoning now on the books in the municipalities.

    "We don't want to impede our
    farmers from subdividing."

    Ron Koldjeski
    Newton Twp. supervisor
"We don't want to impede our farmers from subdividing," said Newton Twp. Supervisor Ron Koldjeski.  "We would consider any zoning request change, providing it follows the rules we've laid out."

South Abington Twp. manager David O'Neill agreed with Mr. Koldjeski, saying his township would consider any request for a zoning variance under the SAPA plan just as they would now.  

"Any landowner has the right to request a variance, as long as they can prove why" the current zoning is causing a hardship, Mr. O'Neill said. "If a farmer owns land and can't make any money on it and wants to sell to a housing developer, we'd consider that."

SAPA: Creating an 11-community zoning map won't come cheap

Something else that remains to be seen is just when SAPA will be able to continue its progress, including completing a zoning map for the 11 communities and each municipality's zoning ordinance overhaul.

Getting the plan to this point has cost SAPA about $300,000, Mr. Jamison said, most of which was funded through grants.  Mr. O'Neill said he believes chances are slim that many municipalities, including South Abington Twp., are in a position to contribute to SAPA’s progress forward at this time.

Mr. Jamison acknowledges that the costs associated with creating the 11-community zoning map will not be cheap.  "There's no money available in this state budget for an endeavor such as this," Mr. Jamison said.  "We're hoping the 2011 budget will come through for SAPA’s next step."
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Re: SAPA Development plan raises concerns

Postby Sal » Thu Jan 21, 2010 6:58 pm

       "We don't want to impede our farmers from subdividing," said Newton Twp. Supervisor Ron Koldjeski.  "We would consider any zoning request change, providing it follows the rules we've laid out."

Since we did not have any say in making the rules, it would be nice to know what the rules are that they laid out.

Lets not beat around the bush, anyone that looks at the map can clearly see that Newton Township is using zoning to exclude any reasonable use of land in the township.  Rezoning it all agriculture with strict use and implying that farmers want that is an insult to people’s intelligence.  

State law allows farming regardless of zoning so farmers have no need for agricultural zoning.  The zoning changes serve the sole purpose of depriving farmers and landowners of reasonable land uses that are currently permitted.
         South Abington Twp. manager David O'Neill agreed with Mr. Koldjeski, saying his township would consider any request for a zoning variance under the SAPA plan just as they would now.  
         "Any landowner has the right to request a variance, as long as they can prove why the current zoning is causing a hardship,” Mr. O'Neill said.  "If a farmer owns land and can't make any money on it and wants to sell to a housing developer, we'd consider that."

The statements made by SAPA members about a variance are questionable.  Denny Puko, policy manager at the Governor’s Center for Local Government said that a variance could not be used that way.

A variance cannot result in a grant of special privilege to the property owner and cannot be contrary to the spirit of the ordinance.

If farmer Jones' land that is zoned agriculture and prohibits housing development somehow obtained a variance to develop it, it would set precedents and would open the door for any landowner that has the same situation to obtain a variance.  

This would defeat the purpose of zoning and if used this way would be "spot zoning" so it is unlikely that a variance would be granted.  Sure, anyone can apply for that type of variance but don’t expect to get it.  

Municipal officials that are planning to change the zoning map or ordinances should be upfront with the people in the community and not try to sneak it through in whole or piecemeal (one ordinance at a time.)

Trust the government.  Do as they say and you get a variance.  Do you buy that?
Search the web and you decide.   "use variance"  "spot zoning"
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