Lancaster County officials are preparing to take the next step toward finalizing its $3 million purchase of more than 75 acres of farmland south of Lancaster city for the construction of a new prison.
That next step, discussed on Tuesday during the county commissioners work session, involves a formal request to Lancaster Township to rezone the property – most of which is a farm bordered on three sides by the Conestoga River – as an industrial zone.
The attorney representing the county in the land deal, Claudia Shank, said a public hearing on the matter could come in November or December.
“In looking at the Lancaster Township zoning ordinance … there really isn’t a category in the zoning ordinance dealing specifically with a correctional facility like what we would be proposing to construct on this property,” Shank said. “So we would need to modify the township zoning ordinance and also the zoning map in order to facilitate that development.”
Shank and Lancaster County Solicitor Jackie Pfursich on Tuesday also asked the commissioners to approve requesting the same zoning change for two smaller parcels of land next to the Kreider farm -- a tract owned by the Fraternal Order of Police and a small piece of land owned by Media Heights Golf.
Shank explained that a small strip of land owned by Media Heights abuts the Kreider property, and that while it is not planned for development since it is in the flood plain, the county is looking to rezone it as well for consistency. The FOP parcel is needed for a road providing access to the Kreider farm.
Shank said the county’s request also seeks to amend the text of Lancaster Township’s zoning ordinance to have it specifically say that correctional facilities are permitted in industrial districts, which it currently does not.
The county’s proposed amendment of the township’s ordinance says “visual screenings” would be required around a prison facility’s perimeter. Owners of property neighboring the Kreider farm have voiced a desire that the existing tree line remain as a visual buffer.
If the county commissioners approve the submission at their meeting today, the request would be submitted to the township, where in turn it would be referred to its planning commission as well as the countywide planning commission for review and recommendation, Shank said. The Lancaster Township Board of Supervisors would then schedule a public hearing on the matter.
“The goal would be for that public hearing before the board of supervisors to occur sometime before the end of the year,” Shank said. “It would likely not be until November, or more likely December of this year.”
The county is still waiting on the results of an environmental survey and detailed title search, but once those are completed and the rezoning accomplished, the county would move to close the deal.
County officials have said it is still too early in the process to project a cost or time table for the project. In the past, projections for a new facility were placed between $100 to $150 million.
When the county announced the selection of the Kreider property in May, several LNP | LancasterOnline readers noted that a good portion of the property lies within the Conestoga River’s flood plain. However, the proposed footprint of the facility would not sit in the flood plain, and Commissioner Craig Lehman said he spoke with the county’s engineer following last week’s significant rainfall and said he was told the water did not rise to the portion of the property where the prison would be built.