The Van Wyck News
|Volume 6 Number 5
||A Voice for Freedom||17 February 2014|
|Route 521/Route 160 Corridor Study|
This massive reworking of Route 521 and Route 160 will also come before the Planning Commission on 18 February 2014 at 6:30 PM in the County Administration Building, 101 N. Main St., Lancaster.
Rooted in a request by Councilman Brian Carnes for a discussion of the B3 issue at the April 2013 County Council meeting, this project has morphed into a major revamping of Route 521 between Waxhaw Road (Rte 75 east) and the state line and of Rte 160 between Rte 521 and the York County line. Billed as a project developed jointly with the public, public involvement has actually been minimal, consisting of a meeting in June and another one in December. The text, available here, was apparently written after the second meeting was held. A slide show is also available.
What the proposal seeks to do is to make Rte 521 and Rte 160 more attractive by requiring that new businesses be placed near and parallel to the road with parking behind them. Between the road and the businesses would be a sidewalk and some attractive, but not opaque, landscaping. Each business would be given its own curb cut into the road, with curb cuts to be shared when possible and no closer than 300 feet apart. Therein lies the rub. Such a provision, with every business having its own access to the highway, seems guaranteed to slow traffic on the main road as the right hand lane becomes dedicated to traffic leaving and re-entering the road. The four lane divided highway will become a two lane divided highway for through traffic with a lot of demand for turn around spots as traffic headed in one direction seeks access to businesses located on the other side of the road.
The alternative scenario is to provide access to and from the highway only at existing roads. This drives development up the existing roads and away from the highway and allows the construction of a road parallel to the highway to provide access to parcels between the exits to the highway. In this scenario, the high speed nature of the highway is preserved for all four lanes, with turn out and acceleration lanes provided at existing roads. The stop and go traffic associated with closely spaced businesses is moved from the main highway to the parallel, low speed roads. The construction cost of these parallel roads is included in the development costs for the parcels served.
Another aspect of the proposal is the requirement that all traffic control devices be on mast arms, which are believed by some to be more attractive than the more conventional wires. Mast arms are much more expensive than wires and are difficult, expensive and time consuming to repair if damaged. The state, which is responsible for for Routes 521 and 160, will not pay for mast arms; that cost must be borne entirely by the county. To some beauty is in the mast arms; to others the beauty is in the lower tax bill.
An additional aspect to this proposal is that it will require rezoning every piece of property within 1000 feet of each highway, which will be a substantial cost.
The general impression given by this proposal is that it was thought up by a group of people brainstorming around a table spending other people's money without any interest in or access to hard data. There is certainly no need for this kind of thing between Van Wyck Road and Waxhaw Road. That area should use the attractive buffer with business up the existing roads technique described above. The impact of the implementation of this scenario on commuters and others using the road for through transportation needs to be assessed. A cost to implement and cost analysis of the mast arm provision needs to be performed. The bills are ultimately going to be paid by taxpayers even if developers pay them first and pass them on.
Treetops Could Live AgainThe proposal of Matamy Homes that the Treetops property be rezoned to R-30P and the property receive permission to be developed under the newly approved Cluster Development Overlay is before the Planning Commission on Tuesday night 18 February.
If approved, Matamy's latest plans call for the building of 800 homes on the property in violation of the County Comprehensive Plan, approved last February, which designates the area as “an area where intensive development should be questioned.” In addition there will be serious infrastructure costs associated with the project downstream with a particularly large negative impact on the Lancaster County School District. It is in the path of the
present planned route of the Dave Lyle Extension and the commercial corridor that will need to go with it. Negative impacts on the Van Wyck Road maintenance and traffic situations are anticipated along with a negative impact on the traffic situation on Rte 521. This use of the property is also a clear violation of the purpose for which the property was donated to The Family Center, Inc. by Mr. Fred Wikoff. The Family Center, Inc. has since been acquired by Thompson Child and Family Focus, the
current owner of the property. Matamy Homes has an option to purchase the property from Thompson if the rezoning is approved. Asking price on the property with the zoning approval was $9.2MM. Without the zoning change the property is, of course, worth much less.
One of the difficulties with the property is that the present owner, Thompson, is making no effort to take care of it. The Family Center had invested about $7MM in buildings and improvements to the property to make it the successful camp that it was. There has been extensive vandalism and the property is now an attractive nuisance, serving as the site of illicit teen age drinking parties and the like. The question arises, if County Council obeys
the dictates of its own Comprehensive Plan and denies the Matamy request to put a large development on the property, what will become of it?
For the last couple of months a group of local citizens and some of the people originally involved with Treetops have been working to see if there is a way that, given access to the property, it could be restored to something like the original vision presented by Mr. Wikoff, a place where neglected and abused disadvantaged children could come to heal and recover, taking some steps toward having full
and productive lives. I am happy to report that we now believe that this is possible and possible without asking for governmental assistance other than the appropriate zoning for this use. Such a use would be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan, cause no infrastructure problems at all and develop into a unique facility that would be a source of considerable pride to the community. The foundations that
supported Treetops in the past have responded enthusiastically to what we have had to say, and we believe that this can be done completely with private sector money.
Many obstacles remain and this is not a done deal by any means. County Council must reject the Matamy Homes request and approve appropriate zoning if the present zoning is for some reason no longer satisfactory. We must deal with the present property owner to gain control of the property. We must survey the damage caused by vandals, secure the property and clean up the damage. We must install a combination of programs that will make the project financially viable over the long term. With broad community support, foundation support and the assistance of the Almighty we can make this happen.
Capital ProjectThe Capital Project Sales Tax is a 1% sales tax imposed by Lancaster County to pay for the new courthouse. This tax was imposed in May of 2009 and will expire when bonds used to finance the courthouse are paid off, anticipated to be sometime in 2015. The Courthouse cost about $31MM; the total tax required to pay off the bonds (including the cost to set up the bonds and the interest on them) will be about $41MM. It required several years to get citizens to agree to approve this tax, which must be approved by a vote of citizens at a general or special election.
County Government and the Tax to the Max portion of County Council regard this as a wonderful experience and one that they would like to repeat without a break. They love the idea of having $35MM to spend on new toys next year. The cash registers are all programmed, the citizens are used to it, a small part of the cost is borne by people from outside the County, the projects will hit right before the 2016 elections so incumbents can claim credit for them, the costs all come later, what's not to like? The only trick is to find the right box of goodies that will cause the voters to buy in.
The group in charge of selecting the goodies has been appointed and had its first meeting. The group consists of six individuals, three from the County, two from the City of Lancaster and one from the Heath Springs-Kershaw area. Larry Martin is the Chair and Ted Hoover is Vice-Chair. Steve Willis is serving as resident expert and County staff contact, Frannie Heizer as Counsel and Debbie Hardin as Clerk. The group must select the projects to be performed, rank them in order of priority, decide whether to use the funds directly as they come in or fund a bond and decide the wording of the question to be put on the ballot in November 2014. Their work must be complete by the beginning of July 2014. County Council must then adopt without modification or reject the proposal from the Committee. If adopted, it is forwarded to the State Elections Commission for inclusion on the ballot in the General Election in November 2014.
The Committee can choose generally any project that is legitimately funded using tax money and accept project ideas from any source. Projects need to have reasonably well established costs. The tax ends seven years after it starts and cannot be renewed; projects left unfinished when the tax ends must be completed using other funds.
Projects can benefit any of the four governmental entities (the County, the city, the two town) or the school district or a joint entity such as the library or the Joint Recreation Commission. The Committee does not need to consider the financial justification for a project or its economic viability, only its attractiveness to the voters. Thus projects like a community playhouse, auditorium or arts center could be considered along side the need for a new jail, library, Vehicle Maintenance Center for the County and smaller projects such as various road improvement projects.
The Committee will next meet on 4 March at 5:30 PM in the County Administration Building, 101 N. Mail Street, Lancaster. The Committee is subject to Freedom of Information Act rules; all meetings are open to the public, agendas will be published, minutes will be kept and published and information will be available on the County website. Communications to the Committee may be addressed to the Capital Project Sales Tax Committee, Ms. Debbie Hardin, Clerk, 803-416-9307.