- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—Changes to Luzerne County’s land development law that would require developers to include sidewalks and bike paths in new developments and to consult with the county’s transportation authority on potential bus service will come to a vote tonight.

The proposal from council member Rick Williams would amend the county’s subdivision and land development ordinance, which covers 28 municipalities that use the county’s planning laws. Many are boroughs that don’t appear to have much room for new development. Others are townships with more room but farther from the county’s population centers.

The ordinance would require builders in the municipalities that use the county’s planning law to consult with the Luzerne County Transportation Authority when putting in new developments. Developers would have to meet with the LCTA if proposed sites were within 1,000 feet of a main road, or regarding industrial and business parks or if the planning commission makes a request.

Norm Gavlick, interim director of the LCTA, said the proposal seems like a good idea. He pointed out some places in the county that weren’t designed with bus transit in mind but are now destinations. At the CenterPoint Commercial and Industrial Park in Jenkins Township, for example, bus infrastructure is nonexistent, and drivers drop people off on the side of the road. Sidewalks and driveways in residential neighborhoods can affect the authority’s shared ride van frequented by senior citizens and patrons with wheelchairs or walkers, he said.

“Unfortunately, transit has kind of taken a back seat for a long time,” he said. “We’d love to be involved in the forefront rather than getting involved after the fact.”

Earth Conservancy currently lists a single parcel of land for sale in a municipality that uses the county land development law, a two-acre lot in Newport Township.

Michael Dziak, president of the Earth Conservancy, expressed concern that the proposed requirements could drive up the cost of its parcels.

“I’d like to live in a community that has all these things. The problem I see from a development point-of-view is affordability. These all cost money, that must go in the lot price,” Dziak said.

Dziak said he hoped the communities that use the county’s ordinance would weigh in on the proposal.

“I think these are good ideas, and in an ideal situation where you can afford them, they’re great. It gets down to dollars and cents and who’s responsible,” he said.

Jim Cummings, marketing vice president of Mericle Commercial Real Estate, expressed similar concerns in an emailed statement. Mericle currently does not have any existing or planned developments in the municipalities that use the county’s ordinance.

“We would like to have the types of amenities listed in the ordinance in our business parks and in fact, we are looking into the feasibility of adding a few of them right now. However, the question is, can we assume the cost of adding such features while still remaining competitive?” Cummings wrote.

Companies deciding where to put a property consider many factors, and price is an important one, he said. If another developer offers a lower price, companies may choose that option.

“When we try to recruit businesses into our buildings, the competition is intense,” Cummings wrote.

Williams acknowledged that sidewalks and bike paths would cost money to install, but pointed out that so do sewers, water services and other utilities.

“It’s an infrastructure cost. But it pays off I think in better health, property values, economic development, quality of life and safety. It makes the area more attractive, a great place to live and raise families,” he said.

The county’s planning commission is free to allow exceptions for developers, according to the proposed changes.

“I recognize one standard may not fit all applications,” Williams said, “however this does provide a mechanism by which people can make thoughtful decisions.”

Council will hear public comment on the proposed changes at a hearing at 5:30 p.m. today. Council will vote on the ordinance amendments at its meeting following that hearing.

[email protected]

570-821-2051, @CVBillW

MUNICIPALITIES

A change to the county’s subdivision and land development ordinance would affect the 28 municipalities under county jurisdiction for those responsibilities. They are:

Avoca

Conyngham Township

Courtdale

Dallas

Dupont

Duryea

Fairmount Township

Hughestown

Hunlock Township

Huntington Township

Jeddo

Laflin

Lake Township

Larksville

Luzerne

New Columbus

Newport Township

Plymouth

Plymouth Township

Pringle

Ross Township

Shickshinny

Union Township

Warrior Run

West Pittston

West Wyoming

Wyoming

Yatesville

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