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.”
North Abington Twp.
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."
Newton Twp. supervisor
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."