In Lancaster County, land is rapidly being paved over for shopping centers and developments. With so much growth being fast-tracked, one service new construction will need is water.
Consider a land-use situation unfolding in Lancaster Township, where residents oppose the city’s plan to build a 3 million-gallon water tank on School District of Lancaster property.
This proposed tank will be nearly two-thirds the height of the Griest Building and almost three times as big as the Millersville University campus water tank. Located across from Manor Shopping Center on Millersville Pike, it would be seen for miles. It would tower over the soon-to-be-built Buchanan School. Above all, it would impact a vital natural area where children and parents enjoy the playground, where people walk or jog the fields and explore tree groves with friends, where kids and dogs play, and where teams play soccer and baseball from spring to fall.
Protecting land where neighbors feel connected to air, water, soil and light is essential to our collective ability and desire to care for Earth. One of the best ways to stay awake to our connection with the natural world is to have easy access to open spaces like this one in Lancaster Township. If this were our shared public mindset, building a 3 million-gallon water tank on this land would be unthinkable.
If we are fortunate, someone teaches us an appreciation and gratitude for Earth and her resources, and in turn we value our land heritage all the more. While we need environmental learning in the classroom, it’s crucial to teach children about nature, so tomorrow’s adults get to experience a conscious relationship with Earth growing up.
Isn’t this something we want our children to learn? Isn’t keeping an open space next to two schools accessible for an outdoor classroom appropriate? The problem is, any educational goal of helping students develop a deep connection to our natural world is illogical if a gigantic, industrial water tank looms over them — even Star Trek’s Mr. Spock could see that.
Now for the politics. Growing water needs for new developments is one of the reasons the city cites for this massive tank. According to the Public Works office, the city’s Water Department needs to create more water capacity to greenlight a number of development projects now and in the future.
From a water usage chart presented by Charlotte Katzenmoyer, director of Public Works, Lancaster Township is not the primary beneficiary of any added water tank supply that will, in part, be created to support new construction. If this tank must be built, why not do it closer to customers responsible for growth, and not next to a park that greatly benefits the community. Still, the city wants School District of Lancaster land — partly because it sees it as the cheapest. But cheapest how?
Nature greatly contributes to a child’s emotional and physical health — adult health, too. When we take the long view for protecting open space, we embrace it as a cherished asset for our communities, not as a commodity. This is important in an era when we need to enhance our relationship with Earth and not destroy it further.
A recent article in National Geographic listed the 25 happiest places to live in America. Its author discovered “happiness doesn’t just happen, there’s a genesis to it. Enlightened leaders make conscious decisions to favor quality of life over economic development or political expediency.”
In December, the School District of Lancaster board took big steps to separate its water supply needs for the new Buchanan School, so the school can now be built without water tower support. After going to great lengths to uncouple these two projects, a land lease to let the city build its water tank on school district property is still up for a board vote — possibly by the end of January.
Lancaster Township already has limited open space. What public officials from the city and the school district need to consider before deciding to negotiate a lease is that well-cared for neighborhoods and places for recreation do indeed promote health and well-being, not just for our Lancaster, but for future generations impacted by today’s land-use decisions. The more we cover our county with sprawling developments, business centers and shopping malls thirsty for water, the more we lose site of how open space and parkland grows our connection to nature and strengthens our community bond.
Before making a decision that will impact this side of town for the next 100 years, board members must ask themselves what they will be teaching Lancaster about being good stewards of our public land and trust if they vote in favor of this water tank deal.
Kate Lutz is co-founder of Friends of Lancaster Township Park. She began her career in radio and film, and went on to work with numerous organizations promoting environmental education.