Washington Twp. proposes zoning changes

Some residents request referendum

By Rebecca Zemencik, Managing Editor • rebecca-z@citizenstandard.com

LOYALTON – Washington Township in upper Dauphin County is planning to amend some of its zoning ordinances and a public hearing was held Tuesday evening, Aug. 2.
A few people expressed their concerns and felt the amendments aren’t necessary, while others in attendance are in favor of the changes.
The major changes are proposed for Chapter 22 of the subdivision/land development ordinance and Chapter 27 of the zoning ordinance. These items can be viewed on the township’s website at http://www.wtwp.org/.
According to Lavern Brown, a member of the Washington Township Planning Commission the changes have been worked on for a while and this isn’t something that was done overnight.
“Washington Twp. adopted zoning laws 20 years ago,” said Brown. “We felt it was time to take a look at the zoning and make changes to better fit our area. We want to make these laws fit for the people to do what they want to do with their property. We want the people to have all their rights to their property. It’s time to give the people back their rights as land owners.”
Township resident Edward Bechtel is one resident who is opposed to the changes. He addressed the board of supervisors during the public hearing.
“I’m here tonight to speak against the proposed changes as well detail more serious immediate problems that should be addressed before making changes to the zoning ordinances,” said Bechtel. “Most of my remarks are based on what I learned from attending planning commission and supervisors meetings during the first half of this year.”
Bechtel said when this entire process is all over he will not harbor ill feelings towards no one. He said his conscience dictated that he had to come and speak his mind.
During his presentation and questions to the board he pointed out the following points:
“These proposed amendments are purely agenda driven by a few for the benefit of a few,” said Bechtel, as he read from a prepared statement. “Let’s be clear… I’m pro business… in many ways it’s the lifeblood of the community, but there needs to balance in our land use and zoning ordinances. We are not a township of just businesses. Remember individual home owners pay a lot of taxes. It’s time for supervisors to look out for the people living in Mt. View Terrace, Ky Blue Grass, Pine Acres and the villages of Loyalton, Big Run and the surrounding farm lands and other areas of the township.”
Bechtel also pointed out the supervisors may want to seek legal advice from their solicitor about a voting conflict of interest since they may have business interests that may possibly benefit from these proposed changes.
He also suggested an open house for the average joe and Jane homeowners and let the township officials ask them… what can we do to help you.
Before Bechtel addressed the proposed zoning ordinances he showed the supervisors and audience some examples of hazardous burning and run down properties that need to be addressed before the township allows smaller property set backs, and virtually unlimited use of signs.
“I totally agree we must be business friendly, but we must also control rundown properties and health hazards, or business will not thrive,” said Bechtel. “Just look at all the business that left some of our towns because things got so run down that business fled. If you do what is right for homeowners, business will thrive and grow.”
Bechtel pointed out the major changes that concern him are the set back reductions. For example, side yard setbacks were 30 and now would be 15; rear yard setbacks were 50 and now would be 30; building height limit was 35 feet and now would be 0’; shed set back from adjoining property was 10’ and now 4’; sheds were prohibited from front yards, now they can be placed in the front yard with the new changes.
Bechtel said the major change that will impact the rural character of the area is the gutting of the sign ordinance.
“Why fix something that is not broken?” asked Bechtel. “The current zoning works. There have been very few zoning hearing board hearings in the recent past that I recall. So what’s the need to make these ill thought changes?”
Bechtel requested the supervisors to consider a non-binding referendum for the citizens to vote on the changes.
Township Solicitor Joe Kerwin said he wasn’t sure if this was something that could be placed on the ballot or whether there was enough time to do so.
At the conclusion of the hearing, the supervisors moved into the regularly scheduled monthly meeting of the board.
During the regular meeting, the supervisors agreed to have Kerwin look into getting a referendum for the proposed zoning changes and they plan to discuss it again at the next meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 16, at 7 p.m.

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