Parcel YV-2-3566 is more than just a plot of land in Sugar Grove.
To the owners, Eric and Lisa Hagberg, the parcel is about private property and their right to develop it.
Some Sugar Grove residents see the proposal as a threat to the community and say the process has been carried out in secret and behind closed doors. Others have spoken in favor of the Hagbergs in recent public meetings.
To the Warren County Commissioners, the matter has been settled with their unanimous approval to rezone the 2.5-acre property on Big Tree Road to business during their Wednesday morning meeting.
“We were pleased with the outcome,” Lisa Hagberg said. “We do believe we have private property rights and we have done everything to correctly follow that process.”
“This is not a new issue for us,” Commissioner John Bortz said at the beginning of the public meeting.
The Hagbergs’ request to rezone the entire 14-acre business transitional parcel was rejected by the commissioners late last year. The request was resubmitted to the Warren County Planning Commission for 2.5 acres in the same location and was approved on March 5 by a vote of four to two.
“We have received letters in support of the Hagbergs from residents. So, the people that are in favor of this are stepping up and speaking out now, too; we’re getting both sides of this,” Commissioner Chairman Stephen Vanco said.
Sugar Grove resident Joe Levis expressed his opposition to the proposal during the public comment period Wednesday morning with pictures about the “supposed non-flooding area.”
“That has no bearing on us…that’s the developer’s problem,” Vanco said. “We don’t control any of these permits.”
Levis said the commissioners should consider the overall view and how it effects everything, “not just whether you can put a business in or not.”
“That is up to all the permits that are required by the developer, from PennDOT, from EPA and all that. The commissioners have no control over any of that,” Vanco said.
Levis cited a number of portions from the Warren County Zoning Ordinance, such as Section 402 referring to special exceptions and conditional uses, as well as a number of safety concerns in the area.
“We’re concerned about the safety with the blind spot of the crest going south and the hill coming down that there’s going to be increased accidents with buggies and vehicular accidents. We’re concerned about no sidewalks; residents aren’t going to be able to get up there safely, they’re going to get hit,” Levis said.
“Were these issues addressed by the planning board?” Vanco asked zoning officer Aaron Kalkbrenner. “I’d assume that’s their job.”
“Yes, they reviewed the zoning ordinance for legality, and according to them, it seems to fit the recommendation it should to be rezoned business. I would like to say (Section) 402 is talking about special exceptions and conditional uses, not rezonings,” Kalkbrenner said.
“So you’re saying there may be a degree of misinformation that was just articulated?” Bortz asked. “Reading from the wrong portion of the zoning ordinance, is that what you’re saying?”
“I would say that,” Kalkbrenner said.
Jack Hunt of Sugar Grove also spoke during the public comment and said he had invested money in the borough by building a new home and was against the rezoning request.
“I don’t think corporate America should build there… I am against it. The thing about Sugar Grove is it’s a nice little borough, all the little mom and pop businesses, that make it unique, very unique,” Hunt said. “The property I purchased was available for two years before I purchased it. If anybody wanted commercial property they could’ve bought that. Now you want to put a business behind, across the street and I just disagree with it.”
Trudy Mader of Sugar Grove said she feels it’s unfair that residents don’t know what the business is and the planning commission may not have followed the process properly.
“I’m just standing for neighbors that get blindsided and don’t get to hear all the facts. It’s all secretive, it’s all kept behind closed doors so nobody but the people doing it get to know…” she said.
“How many of you attended the planning hearing?” Vanco asked. “How many of you didn’t understand what the process was?”
“I very much understand what the process was,” Mader said.
“Did they not follow it correctly?” Vanco asked.
“Questionable, yes,” Mader said. “Very questionable.”
“At that last meeting they never said what was going in there,” Levis said.
“They don’t even have to know what’s going in there, in my opinion,” Vanco said. “It’s just, that is nothing. That is not part of the equation, what is actually going in there.”
“Why not?” asked Mader.
“Why would it?” Vanco responded.
Bortz said there is a process the development of the property will have to go through with various agencies that will address concerns such as flood plains, but the commissioners are limited in their discretion in approving or not approving the rezoning request.
“From the actions taken today, one way or another, it’s not as though bulldozers and excavators are going to move in tomorrow and immediately start going through the process. The development process, the real estate process is something that has numerous public components to it and it takes time. So a lot of the concerns that you are expressing, there are agencies there that are directly responsible for addressing those concerns and they will be involved,” he said.
He continued, saying, “Mrs. Mader, I want to agree with you on one point. That is this: it is my opinion that this process shouldn’t even be at the county, and I’m just getting on my own soap box here. These are municipal issues and I will tell you this right now, I have spoken to any number of township supervisors which feel the same way. I’m a resident of Youngsville, and here I am, I’m making a decision which is going to affect the folks of Sugar Grove.
“Now, I don’t like it, but it’s the pill I have to swallow right now…the degree of discretion which we have is very limited, and there’s a reason for that; so we avoid things. We want to adhere to the administrative side of the process, not a political side. So, if we know that the T’s have been crossed and the I’s have been dotted and the proper review has been done, then we have very little discretion to refuse it. It’s a matter of then the other agencies involved have to look at it, and there’s a reason for that ma’am, and that is this, we’re dealing with private property rights, which is the foundation of this country.”
“Thank you. you can say all that, I’ve heard all that before. I have also heard in two different instances this is a done deal. Get out of the way,” Mader said. “So that means to me there’s a lot of talk going on behind us, that we don’t know anything about. You can talk about all your processes and you can talk about all these things, you’ve got checks and balances. We’ve been told to our face, this is a done deal.”
“Who told you that?” Commissioner John Eggleston asked.
“I’m not saying who told me; I don’t have to tell you who told me that. I’m just saying that’s what happens, that’s why we don’t trust the process,” Mader said.
“I think the (news)paper,” one resident said, “basically, I think everyone got the impression from the article in the paper.”
Appeals to the commissioners’ decision are allowed within 30 days.