Lancaster Planning Commission to discuss ‘overlay district’ idea Thursday

joverman@fortmilltimes.comNovember 13, 2013 

— As interest in residential building picks up in Lancaster County, the county’s planning department is looking at ways to allow for more flexibility in planning for developments.

At least four developers have recently expressed interest in building subdivisions in Indian Land with a variety of lot sizes in the development. Under current ordinances, that’s only possible if they create a Planned Development District, which also requires a commercial component. But not all developers want to include commercial business in the community, Planning Director Penelope G. Karagounis said.

To help create options, one interested developer, Mattamy Homes, paid a consultant to work with the planning department to create what official refer to as a Cluster Subdivision Overlay District.

The overlay district is another “tool in our toolbox,” Karagounis said.

With the overlay district, if a developer is interested in building a community with a variety of lot widths, he or she would have to go through the public approval process to get the overlay district approved for the property.

The underlying zoning on the property would still apply, Karagounis said. That means that if the property was original zoned to allow 1.5 units per acre, that density would still be the maximum density allowed by the developer. With the addition of the overlay district, however, the developer is given freedom to “cluster” those homes together and leave other parts of the property as green space as long as the subdivision does not exceed 1.5 units in the aggregate.

Another caveat is that at least 20 percent green space is required.

“The density would stay at 1.5 units per acre, but they could have as low as 50-foot lot widths, and on top of that preserve open space,” Karagounis said.

Demographics show that many home buyers want less yard and more common space to interact with their neighbors, Karagounis said. The cluster overlay district allows for those types of communities.

It also preserves the rural setting that many people moved into the county for, she added.

“This provides a peripheral buffer, so when you drive down the road you won’t see the cluster of homes. You will see the beautiful trees and a vista driving into the neighborhood,” Karagounis said.

Indian Land Action Council President Pat Eudy said there have been concerns about the overlay district, but many have been cleared up as more information surfaces.

“We had a lot of people with the misconception that they’d just build houses right on top of each other,” she said. “We’re feeling better now that we know what it is. It wasn’t like they thought.”

The green space requirement in particular appeals to Eudy and assuaged her concerns about the overlay district.

“I think cluster homes, to me, would be clear cutting but I heard it was more green space and I thought it was wonderful,” she said. “It won’t be clear cut trees everywhere. I’m glad the county and planning department are thinking about green space.”

Some Indian Land residents have had concerns about who pays the consultants bills. But while the consultant is being paid by a developer, the Planning Department, and then in ascending order, the Planning Commission and the County Council, have the ultimate authority, Karagounis said.

“This is a great example of the taxpayers not having to pay for this type of service,” Karagounis said.

A public hearing on the overlay district is planning for the Planning Commission meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 14. It is expected to be on the Lancaster County Council agenda on Nov. 25 for council consideration.

Jenny Overman •  803-547-2353

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