Hellam Twp. sign, York County

Two measures intended to enhance protections of rural and agricultural areas of Hellam Township hit a small roadblock Thursday night when the township’s supervisors sent them back to the township's Planning Commission for revisions.

The proposed ordinances, one enhancing the township’s transferable development rights program and the other establishing a new zoning district to protect the unique nature of the area known as Owl Valley, were both on Thursday’s agenda to be sent to the York County Planning Commission for review. But after hearing concerns from citizens, including members of the ad hoc committee that helped develop both proposed ordinances, the supervisors decided to ask the township’s Planning Commission to help fine-tune both ordinances first.

Hellam Township already has a TDR plan that allows property owners in designated areas with prime agricultural soils to sell their rights to further develop their property to developers with projects in other parts of the township. Developers then may exchange those TDRs for enhanced development rights such as denser development or regulatory flexibility, such as allowing taller buildings than normally allowed.

The idea is to redirect development from those prime farm lands to areas that are better suited for building and development by allowing property owners to gain financial compensation for sacrificing their development rights. The concept is popular with developers because purchasing TDRs is less expensive than pursuing zoning variances without the risk those variance requests might be denied.

“The program has been partially successful,” Township Manager Corinna Mann said. “These changes are intended to enhance the program by making TDRs more marketable. If they are not marketable, people won’t buy them.”

But supervisors noticed some inconsistencies in the proposed changes and members of the ad hoc committee objected to a clause that would limit TDRs to parcels that were 10 acres or larger. That change would eliminate 78 of the 185 lots in the protected area from the program.

The second measure would establish a new zone, labelled Residential-I, in the Owl Valley area on the south side of the township. The change is intended to protect the rural residential nature of the historic valley, which is currently zoned as Rural Agricultural, from the impact of some uses allowed under the current zoning. Among uses that would no longer be allowed in the new zone are airports and heliports, golf courses, campgrounds, schools, and private clubs. Applying sewer sludge to fields would also be prohibited.

“My number one goal is to protect Owl Valley,” said Phil Smith, who chairs the Board of Supervisors. “Owl Valley is residential. It is historical houses.”

While Smith expressed concerns that delay in making the zoning change could allow a developer to introduce plans in the interim that might negatively impact the valley, the board was unanimous in deciding both measures needed further review and fine tuning before they are advanced.

“This is not so much to go back for reworking,” Smith said. “But I want them to have a chance to take another look at it and make sure there are no changes that would impact what we are trying to protect.”

Mann said members of the ad hoc committee will meet with the Planning Commission to conduct the reviews before returning both ordinances to the supervisors for action.