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Sliver of farmland triggers development fight in Lancaster

Philadelphia is surrounded by farming communities that are slowly giving way to urban development. Even though more than 100,000 acres of rural farm land near Philadelphia is zoned as off-limits to development, the fate a small sliver of farm land near Lancaster has stirred considerable controversy among the residents of Manheim Township.

The principal question is whether the Lancaster County Board will approve what is known as a "sliver taking" to permit construction of a 75-acre housing and retail complex. Sliver takings are an exercise of the power of eminent domain and are generally used to acquire small parcels of land that are necessary for road construction. The sliver taking in this case includes only .3 acre that is needed to build a turn lane. Much of rural Pennsylvania near Philadelphia is zoned to prevent any type of commercial or residential development, but a sliver taking is an exception to this rule. According to preservation advocates, sliver takings are becoming a threat to preserved farm land. The twin increases in funds available for infrastructure spending and the amount of preserved farm land is blamed for the conflict.

The project near Lancaster is being sponsored by the owners of a popular dairy farm. The owners of the farm are expecting a tough fight to build their project, but they did not expect the County Board to unanimously reject their application for a conditional use permit. According to the owners, the project satisfies all requirements of the county zoning ordinance. A court appeal is likely if the county board does not change its mind.

This case involves both eminent domain and zoning law. Most nearby residents applaud the county board's rejection of the conditional permit application, but owners of the tract believe that their project will benefit the entire region. The dispute is just beginning, and with protracted real estate litigation in the offing, its outcome cannot be predicted.

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, "Pa. development fight grows on 'sliver' of farmland," Michaelle Bond, Jan. 29, 2017

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