The School District of Lancaster on Tuesday night agreed to enter into lease negotiations for several acres of land the city wants to use for a new water tower.
During a sometimes contentious meeting attended by several Hamilton Park residents, board members expressed frustration with poor communication from city officials, a lack of transparency in its site selection process and a potential loss of control with the threat of eminent domain.
Members voted 6 to 3 — with "no" votes from Cheryl Desmond, Linda Owens and David Parry — to move forward. The approved resolution was carefully worded to require an additional board vote before a final lease can be executed.
City officials argued previously that they need the land near Wheatland Middle School for a 113-foot-tall tower that will expand capacity and improve water pressure, particularly from the city's southwest corner out into surrounding municipalities.
Several members, including President Edith Gallagher, cited an apartment complex fire last Thursday in which they said hydrant issues surfaced as proof that the area does indeed have a water pressure problem.
"We would be irresponsible not to engage in the conversation," Gallagher said.
Almost all of the board members who spoke indicated they felt forced to vote for negotiations to retain some say over the tower's exact location, design and landscaping, and the possible inclusion of cellphone towers.
"Basically, this boils down for me to a crap shoot," board member Candace Roper said.
She voted in favor of negotiations "with the hope the water tower will not be built on that land." At the very least, Roper hopes that the board can sway the city to move its tower downhill, away from Wheatland Middle School and closer to Manor Shopping Center.
Residents collected more than 400 signatures opposing the use of land adjacent to a public park and a school, insisting that the main beneficiaries of the additional water capacity would not be city or Lancaster Township residents.
Millersville Borough and Manor Township are keeping a close eye on the ongoing water tower debate in Lancaster Township.
"There are other places to park this thing that are closer to the developers who want to use it," said Kate Lutz, co-founder of the ad hoc Friends of Lancaster Township Park group.
Lutz had asked the board to wait 30 days for action, hoping to get more information on other potential sites.
Others said during public comments before and after the split vote that the board likely could have won the battle by refusing to negotiate, theorizing that a court battle over eminent domain might have made city public works officials look more seriously at other locations.
Note: This story was reported remotely via livestream provided by See-thru City. A replay of the meeting is available here.