The Bethel Township supervisors find themselves in a position baseball great Yogi Berra might have termed "déjà vu all over again."
For the second time recently, the board is expected to vote on a controversial rezoning issue when it meets Monday at 7 p.m. in the township building.
In September, the board voted 2-1 against rezoning a portion of the Bowman family farm to allow for a business and light industrial park along Route 645, just north of Interstate 78.
In the interim, the project regained momentum and, on Tuesday, the township planning commission breathed new life into the development.
The commission voted 4-3 to, in effect, recommend that the supervisors rezone the Bowman tract to allow the project to go ahead.
Supporting the nonbinding recommendation were commission Chairman William Straw and members Michael Orendo, Corey Houser and Lisa Hassler. Voting against the recommendation were Betsy Bowman, George Shollenberger and Sheldon Martin.
The future of the project, a political hot potato, lies in the hands of one of two township supervisors, Michael C. Graby or Robbi L. Lane.
Either Graby and Lane, both of whom voted against rezoning the Bowman tract in September, would have to vote in favor of rezoning for the project to continue.
Chairman Jacob C. Meyer has supported rezoning all along.
The key points
Rezoning the Bowman tract from agricultural to industrial-commercial, which is part of a larger update of the township zoning ordinance, has struck a nerve in the northwestern Berks County township.
Interstate 78 runs right through the township, which has been inundated with warehouses in recent years.
At public meetings, residents have insisted they want no more warehouses.
While the Bowman family insists the three light industrial buildings in the project are not warehouses, the proposed development has come to symbolize a threat to the township’s agricultural character.
Noting that the proposed business park would have space for medical offices, restaurants and retail businesses, the Bowmans have argued it would be the best use of the property.
Development of the park, however, depends on rezoning about 35 acres of the farm from agricultural to industrial-commercial.
Should the rezoning not be approved, the Bowman family developed an alternative plan to put intensive animal husbandry on the property. A plan for six large chicken houses and two warehouses is under review by the planning commission.
Straw, the chairman, said under existing zoning provisions the family could construct about 400,000 square feet of buildings for animal husbandry, which normally involves raising chickens or pigs.
Betty Martin, an outspoken critic of rezoning, told the planning commission that given a choice she’d prefer to see intensive animal husbandry on the farm.
Houser, one of the commission members who recommended rezoning the Bowman tract, argued that township roads were not capable of handling truck traffic generated by intensive agriculture.
The township would bear the cost of repairing or replacing the roads, he said, which could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Traffic from the proposed business park exits onto Route 645, a state route,and does not utilize any township roads, Houser said.
Solicitor Stephen Price said the township supervisors have two choices at Monday’s meeting.
One, reaffirm the 2-1 vote that rejected zoning the Bowman tract in September. Or, vote to rezone it.
Should the supervisors vote to rezone, the current draft of the proposed township zoning ordinance would have to be amended.
A public meeting would have to be held, and it is likely the supervisors would vote on the amended ordinance in January.