LOWER SALFORD — Almost 20 years after the idea of rezoning part of Wambold Road was first discussed, a hearing at the Aug. 7 Lower Salford Township Board of Supervisors meeting showed there's still no agreement.
Now the township is hoping one can be reached and a decision made next month.
Terry Derstine, who owns one of the properties between the turnpike bridge and Sumneytown Pike, has proposed having that section, including four neighboring homes, rezoned for industrial use.
His plans are to sell his property to a heavy equipment dealer, he told the board in a March presentation and again at the Aug. 7 hearing.
Most of the equipment would go directly to customer sites, rather than coming to the Wambold Road location, he said.
"It would be too big to bring on site, but they would do repair and servicing from that location," Derstine said at the Aug. 7 hearing.
James Billy, who owns the home next to Derstine's property, said he has several issues with the proposed rezoning.
His first question was about the neighboring six acres of land owned by the township along the Skippack Creek.
"Nothing can be built on that property," board member Chris Canavan said.
"It's dedicated open space," board Chairman Doug Gifford said.
The land, which was donated to the township, is also in a flood plain, giving another reason it can never be built on, Canavan said.
Billy said when the idea of rezoning was initially raised, it included merging the properties with homes into larger tracts.
"If industrial construction proceeds without merging properties, how can we sell our property?" he asked.
"As a residence? No one would want to live there," he said. "What family wants to live there next to all these industrial buildings?"
Each of the four homes are on lots that are a little more than an acre in size, the homeowners said.
The home lots are not large enough to be sold individually for industrial use, Billy said.
"It has no value unless it is merged with other properties," he said.
Board members said they agree merging the properties would be a good idea, but it's not a requirement for the proposed zoning change.
Wambold Road has changed after becoming part of the connector route between the Pennsylvania Turnpike's Northeast Extension and Route 309, along with the building of the Mainland bypass, Canavan said. There are now industrial properties on other parts of the Lower Salford side of Wambold Road, as well as on the Towamencin side of the road.
"We're trying to figure out — and I think that's where this discussion came from — down the road, what is the right use for that property?" Canavan said.
Carl Specht, another of the homeowners, said he agrees it would be hard to sell the property as a residential property.
Two shifts are planned for the proposed industrial use, he said.
"I don't need to listen to that all night," Specht said. "It's bad enough when the trucks roll down Sumneytown Pike."
The plan will also increase already existing traffic back-ups, he said.
Homeowner Michael Fleming said he agreed the properties would have to be merged in order for the homeowners to be able to sell their land.
Faisal Kahn, the fourth homeowner, told the board in July that he would not be able to make the August meeting, but said he opposed the proposed industrial rezoning. Changing the zoning to Office Limited Commercial might be a better idea, he said.
At the August meeting, the board heard from three Astor Drive residents who raised concerns, including lights, noise and air and water quality issues if the Wambold Road zoning is changed to industrial use. The Astor Drive residents said they also have complaints about an existing turnpike billboard.
Astor Drive resident Bill Thrall said property values have already decreased and when prospective buyers hear about the proposed rezoning, they lose interest. The proposed rezoning will decrease property values for the homes even more and force out the homeowners, he said.
Board member Doug Johnson said there was a lot of misunderstanding at the meeting about the suggestion that the homeowner properties be merged.
"Let me make one thing really clear here. The township cannot force a merger of those lots," he said.
"That's private property," he said. "It may be the ultimate best resolution, but we can't make that happen."
Canavan suggested the Wambold Road homeowners, Derstine and Township Manager Joe Czajkowski meet to try to look at possible other zoning changes, such as to Office Limited Commercial.
That would allow the homeowners to remain in the home or sell the property to be converted into an office, Gifford said.
Canavan said he isn't saying Office Limited Commercial is the answer, but the property owners can discuss the options.
In a 4-1 vote, with Johnson casting the dissenting one, the board agreed to continue the hearing and plan to vote on the matter at the board's Sept. 4 meeting after the property owners meeting.
In a separate matter at the meeting, the board approved a proclamation recognizing G. Fearghas Evanick, of Boy Scout Troop 178, Kulpsville, for his Eagle Scout project to refurbish the patio at Heckler Plains Homestead.