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A Major Win for Preservation


Looks like Lancaster County, PA Commissions know the value of a commitment.

The county's preservation community was very nervous about this vote & the message it would send about all preservation easements -- wherether for historical or agriculture properties. Had the vote gone the other way it could have lead to other preserved properties being built upon or destroyed. It could have also given people rease to question the value of preserving their properties. I had the opportunity to speak with Commissioner Thubault about this issue yesterday and he was rightfully proud of the vote. Hopefully their lead will be followed by political leaders in other communities...


(Note -- for some reason the link would work so I copy & pasted the article)

Ephrata farm vote is hailed, blasted

Sep 25, 2003, 13:27 EST
Lancaster New Era

County officials and agricultural preservation leaders are lauding the Lancaster County Commissioners' denial of a land-swap deal as a victory for the farmland preservation program.

The commissioners voted unanimously on Wednesday to deny Ephrata Area School District's proposal to use 1.4 acres of the preserved David Lauver farm along Meadow Valley Road in Ephrata Township for a secondary access drive for a planned elementary school.

While preservationists applauded the decision, the president of the Ephrata Area School Board called it a "slap in the face'' to everyone from the school, Ephrata Township and Ephrata Borough who spent the last three to four years carefully planning the school.

"This has become a pure political football,'' said William Funk. "I personally feel that this has become such an obvious political issue that has nothing to do with educating children or the needs of addressing our growth.''

Preservation officials see it differently. The importance the decision has to the farmland preservation effort can not be overstated, said Heidi Schellenger of the Lancaster Farmland Trust.

"My board members told me this issue was a hill to die on,'' Schellenger said.

The commissioners demonstrated that safety is the only thing that would justify lifting an easement on preserved farmland, and even that bar is set very high, Shellenger said.

Funk disagreed sharply.

"What it does do is cater to the narrow self-interests of the almost fanatical preservationists,'' Funk said. "We have a supreme disappointment with the way this went.''

The school district proposed preserving 2.8 acres from a nearby farm in exchange for using the slice of preserved ground.

"Our proposal was going to increase the amount of preserved land when we were done, slightly altering the boundary of preserved land,'' Funk said. "If (commissioners) truly cared about preserving land in the county, they would have voted for it.''

He also said he can't see how any dangerous precedent would be set in the case, as preservationists and two of the county commissioners have argued.

"The law currently allows preserved farmland to be crossed for cellular towers,'' Funk said. "The only precedent set here would be that any time a school district is in need of having a safe access to a public road, it can. We are not Wal-Mart. We are not a developer.''

Commissioner Pete Shaub -- who voted with fellow commissioners Paul Thibault and Ron Ford to block the school district's plan -- disagreed with Funk.

"Our ruling yesterday does indicate that we do take ag preservation seriously,'' Shaub said today. "When we commit to preserving for perpetuity, then that's what it means, unless it is essential that a change be made.''

On Wednesday, he said that granting the school's right of way would jeopardize the trust and integrity of the number-one county farmland preservation program in the country.

Gene Garber, president of the county's Agricultural Preserve Board, said before the vote that approving the access drive plan would break the county's "solemn promise'' to Elam Lauver, who donated the land's easement in 1984.

That would set a "terrible, terrible precedent'' for farmland preservation, he said.

Agricultural Preserve Board Director Rich Doenges, speaking before the vote, said farmland preservation would be weakened, even if a legal precedent wasn't set.

"Beyond the reality of the facts, it is important how this would be perceived by the public,'' Doenges said.

All three commissioners felt the school district failed to prove that the access was the only safe alternative for the Lincoln Elementary School planned in Ephrata Township.

The commissioners' careful consideration of the request and high bar set for safety impressed Schellenger.

"I was going to be very upset if they allowed this access drive and it wasn't a safety issue,'' she said. "The two easements that have been amended (in the past) make a nice precedent for safety. They weren't amended for convenience. I definitely think there would have been that perception'' in this case.''

So where does Wednesday's ruling leave the school district, which desperately needs a new school to house its growing number of students?

Funk said officials are eyeing several other routes as a possible secondary access drive to the school.

One alternative is building a road through the school's existing playing fields, an option the school hopes to avoid because children would have to cross it to get to playing fields. That would create "a very big liability situation and an extreme amount of expense,'' Funk said.

Using Market Street is another alternative, he said.

Pursuing the use of eminent domain to condemn part of the preserved farm is "not on the table right now,'' according to Funk.

"That is an option but it is political, and we know now that it would be fought at every turn,'' he said. "We want to build a school, not spend four or five years in litigation.

"We have to build a school and we are on that site.''

He said the project is at least a year behind schedule. The district originally had hoped to seek bids a year ago.




In Lancaster County how many fields remain fallow because there aren't enough farmers to work all of the available farmland? But in other areas where real preservation is needed it is completely disregarded.