DAMASCUS - The monthly meeting of the Damascus Board of Supervisors the minimum size for new lots was a topic of debate.
A survey was sent out to residents in Damascus Township asking for their opinions on increasing the minimum acreage to two. It is currently 60,000 square feet.
Around 33 percent of residents responded to the survey. Of that 33 percent, 74 percent were in favor of the change.
Resident Bob Gross spoke during public comment regarding the issue, which has been going on for awhile.
To start, he quoted the supervisors' handbook where it talks about the planning commission.
“It says a planning commission can be very useful as a way for citizens to make their views known on growth, planning and the direction the township is taking,” he said. “With the planning commission receiving and evaluating input on these topics, citizens are able to have more discussion time on topics that concern them.
“Meanwhile, meetings of the board of supervisors can remain the forum where decisions are made based on the citizen input received by the planning commission.”
Issue at hand
Gross said they previously listened to a member of the planning commission say only 33 percent answered the survey that was sent out.
“These are the voters,” he stated. “They're expressing their opinion. She [planning commission member] went on to explain that only 74 percent of that 33 percent tried to dwindle it down.
“'Who are these people? They weren't elected.' That's what her words were. Well nobody elected the planing board.
“They were appointed. They're not appointed as advisors. They make suggestions. They present you with suggestions they think and what the citizens think, but it seems like they have more control than what they should have.
“I'm also in opposition to the fact two of you have family members on the board. I think that's a conflict of interest.
“Some of these people have been on there so long they think they're in control. I'm tired of it. This is what the people wanted. I don't know why this taking so long. It's been prolonged, put off this way and that way and silly reasons have come up.”
Interests of residents
Gross explained a member of the planning board said nobody wants to mow two acres of grass.
“Well nobody said you have to mow two acres of grass,” he stated. “Do you want to live on a smaller acreage? You go to cluster housing.”
He added one member of the board voted against staying on the one and one-third acre lots because they wanted to go with what the people wanted.
“If you don't want to do what the people want, why are you here?” Gross asked. “You're here for leadership to lead us down the road of what we want, not what you want.
“This is what the people wanted and it should be honored. It shouldn't be prolonged again for another six to seven months.
“I think you should be able to make a decision tonight. It's a simple decision. It seems everybody is out for their own agenda. This has been going on for a long time and i've been outspoken on everything. We're still where we were 20 years ago.”
The hold up
Supervisor Chairman Jeff Dexter said they would be unable to make a decision that night.
“I have to have two votes,” he said. “I didn't have the votes to do it last time. It's an ordinance and it requires certain things. It requires a public hearing, the public came and spoke, the board voted and it didn't carry.”
Supervisor Joe Canfield added they also moved to have the planning commission come up with a usable lot size.
“That is our discussion right now,” he stated.
“The vote on the board was to look into a minimum lot size, which could, in some cases, increase the lot size,” added Dexter. “The market right now is not for small lots. It's for bigger lots. The marketplace has already chosen two acres plus.”
Gross stated that means the information from the 33 percent of people who responded to the survey is useless.
“We have to have two out of three votes for it to pass,” Dexter said.
Gross stated the decision has to be up to the supervisors and not the planning board.
“There's another issue we have to be delicate with,” said Canfield. “You'd be telling someone how many times they can divide up their property that they're paying taxes on.
“You have to balance that out too. If you tell someone they can only divide their five or 10 acre lot into five parcels, you're telling that landowner what they can do with their land they're paying taxes on. It works both ways.”
Supervisor Vice-Chair Steve Adams asked how many lots were subdivided in the last 20 years that were less than two acres.
“There are 3,800 properties in the township and about 70 of them are under two acres,” said Zoning Officer Ed Lagarenne.
He added those were the ones subdivided under the ordinance.
“There's a lot of lots that were a lot smaller than that,” Lagarenne stated.
“This is the way I understand it,” said Adams. “In order for a property to be subdivided it has to meet certain criteria already. Really the issue isn't necessarily the size of the property.
“It's really about what can happen or what is allowable on that piece of property. If you're going to put up a house you need to meet certain criteria on setback and septic area.
“Certain criteria have to be met in order for it to be subdivided period. If you have a piece of property that's two-thirds wetland and the other is a pile of rock, then that property could end up being 25-30 acres to get that subdivision.”
He added if you have a piece of property that's less than two acres, it becomes more difficult to get that subdivision because of the criteria that has to be met.
“This land isn't the flattest and most perkable area in the country so you have to take that into consideration in this too,” Adams explained.
Lagarenne said the current size is 60,000 square feet.
“That's a lot,” he said. “If it's rectangular, that's roughly 200 feet by 300 feet deep. If you make it a two acre lot, it's going to be 200 minimum width, for example, by 435 feet deep.”
He said that's another 135 feet.
“First off you won't see it from the front because you still have your minimum lot,” Lagarenne stated. “If you go with a rectangular lot with the minimum lot segment, you can stack a bunch of 200 foot lots on a road. The difference is the depth. The density really won't change.”
“My main thing is this is what the people wanted and I don't see why it can't be done,” said Gross.
Dexter explained there's a lot that goes into it than just the minimum lot size.
“We have to stick with state law,” he said.
During his report for the planning commission, Matern said it's an ongoing discussion of minimum lot sizes and a decision will come in May.