LOWER SALFORD — The last piece is done.
Wambold Road, which once was mostly residential or farmland, has been rezoned for industrial use. Rezoning of the final part, which included four homes and an undeveloped larger lot between the turnpike bridge and Sumneytown Pike, came at the Lower Salford Township Board of Supervisors Sept. 4 meeting.
Terry Derstine, the owner of the larger lot, requested the rezoning for plans to sell the property to a heavy equipment dealer. The business would do repairs and other service from the site, but most of its work would be off-site at customer locations, he said at previous meetings.
The four homeowners, as well as some other nearby residents, raised concerns in July and August about the rezoning proposal.
"We bought these houses as residential properties, not as investment properties," Faisal Kahn, one of the homeowners, said at the September meeting.
Rezoning to industrial will have a negative impact on the homes, he said.
The change to industrial is viewed by the board as the only option in light of previous changes, he said, but there are other options.
"The premise of this whole proposition is making it more harmonious with the surrounding area," he said. "Right now, that is a residential pocket. That's why I bought that house."
The harmony should be based on the four homes, not on the surrounding area, he said.
James Billy, another of the homeowners, said he agrees with Kahn that other options should be looked into.
Board Chairman Doug Gifford said the board can rezone the property without the landowners' approval.
"We're not out to do something that the landowners don't want if there's no reason to do so. We're not here to make enemies, obviously, but we are here to exercise our judgement as to what's best for the township as a whole," he said.
Board member Chris Canavan said Wambold Road has changed.
"That used to have a significantly greater residential presence," he said.
"Slowly, the march of time has continually diminished that from being any real residential, or even a mix, to non-residential industrial," Canavan said. "I do not see that changing any time in the near future."
Even if the change to the zoning is ultimately made, there's no need to do it now, Kahn said.
"We're talking four households here who have been living there for a number of years, more than a decade every one of us, and converting that one big property in the corner to light industrial is gonna disrupt a lot of things for all of us," he said.
Gifford said he doesn't think the industrial use will disrupt the lives of those living in the homes because land development reviews of the plans will include requirements to buffer the properties and avoid problems.
Kahn said the industrial use will bring "more traffic, more noise, more lights, more pollution."
"I bought it for residential purposes," Kahn said. "Had I known that all of this would be rezoned, probably I would have made a different decision."
The board has to consider both short-term and long-term planning for the community, Canavan said.
Some of the Wambold Road land was rezoned to industrial when Indian Valley regional planning started, he said.
Wambold Road is also part of the connector route between the turnpike and Route 309. The Wambold Road portion has been completed, but the rest of the connector is not yet done. Plans are for construction of a second section of the connector to begin next year. There is currently no date given for when the third and final section of the connector would be built.
Other portions of Wambold Road on the Lower Salford and Franconia side, as well as on the opposite side of the road in Towamencin, already have industrial uses, Canavan said.
"All of these things from a long term planning perspective have changed the area," he said.
"I think that from our standpoint, this corridor is where the industrial district is for our township. It's not in the middle of Harleysville. It's not in Vernfield. It's not over by Lederach. It's along the Wambold Road corridor because it fits in with what's occurred in Towamencin, it fits in with what's in Franconia Township and it's created a harmonious industrial corridor that then transitions to our village area and to our green space," Canavan said.
Those changes don't happen overnight or all at once, he said.
"This is the last piece," Canavan said. The question, he said, is "how does it best get handled?"
If townhouses were allowed at the site, there would likely be developers ready to build there, he said, but it's not a good idea.
"It makes no sense to add more residential in that area. It just doesn't," Gifford said. "The infrastructure is such that it's ideal for industrial."
When rezoning was previously proposed in 2002, it was voted down because of the homeowner's opposition, Gifford said. At the time, he cast the only vote in favor of the change, he said.
"Seventeen years later, we're here looking at the same issues, only the issues have grown," Gifford said, "and what we looked at back then has come to fruition to a large part."
In answer to a question from Canavan, Derstine said he and the planned buyer would be willing to meet with Billy, whose home is the closest one to the planned new industrial user, to come up with a way to screen and transition between the homes and business.
"I think it's being made out to be somewhat of an ogre and I don't think it's going to be that," Derstine said.
"Whatever he builds over there, we will be subject to," Billy said, "so there has to be some remediation."
Rezoning allows the homeowners to continue living there and gives the option of selling their homes as either a home or for industrial use, the board members and Derstine said. It has also been suggested that the homeowners could combine properties to be sold for an industrial use since the individual home lots would not be large enough for an industrial business.
With board members Doug Johnson and Phil Heilman absent from the meeting, board members Keith Bergman, Gifford and Canavan cast the 3-0 vote approving the rezoning. The neighbor issues will be addressed during land development reviews of the plan, Gifford said.
In other matters at the meeting:
• Canavan reported that the Lower Salford Township Industrial Development Authority helped Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville get tax preferred financing for a planned project. Industrial Development Authorities do not provide loans, but allow the organization doing the project to get loans for lower interest rates because the interest is tax-free.
Fees received by the IDA are being distributed with $2,500 going to each the Harleysville Community Center, Harleysville Fire Company, Harleysville Area Emergency Medical Services, and the Indian Valley Educational Foundation, Canavan said.
• Conditional use approval was given for an in-ground pool at the Decembrino home on Hoffman Road.
• The board approved having legal advertising done for a proposed ordinance making the north side of Park Avenue between Route 113 and Arbour Square a no parking zone.