The first draft of proposed additions to the amendment made to the zoning ordinance governing open space - which was approved this past September - was presented to supervisors during their meeting on March 13.

By: Toni Becker

After hearing feedback from the Richland Township Board of Supervisors, township staff will go back to the drawing board to further define general municipal purposes and clarify how much open space acreage can be used for it.

The first draft of proposed additions to the amendment made to the zoning ordinance governing open space - which was approved this past September - was presented to supervisors during their meeting on March 13.

"This is the first shot at it from staff," Township Solicitor Lincoln Treadwell said, of the proposed additions.

On Sept. 26, supervisors voted to redefine the definition of township-owned open space and its regulations, allowing, among other things, for it to be developed for general municipal purposes.

During that meeting, concerns from residents and Supervisor Mike Zowniriw led the board to add additional provisions, which required a definition of general municipal purposes and limitation on how much open space could be used by the township.

"I don't think general municipal purpose is defined," Zowniriw said, during the March 13 meeting. "There are examples of what it's not, but I'd like to see what it is."

The proposed changes by staff defined general municipal purpose as "a use in which the governing body feels is in the best interest of the residents of Richland Township in its sole discretion."

Only open space donated by developers can be developed for general municipal purposes.

"Unless I get a better understanding of general municipal purpose other than what the general body feels it is, I have great trepidation in supporting this," Zowniriw said.

Chairperson Richard Orloff and Supervisor Craig Staats said that the board needs to keep the definition loose for future boards.

"I think some future boards will need acreage in their back pocket in order to serve the people," Orloff said.

Included in the changes were several uses that would not be allowed on township-owned open space, including, but not limited to, sewage treatment plants, landfills, dumps, hospitals, cemeteries, residential development, commercial, retail and industrial uses, among others.

Treadwell said that many residents feel all open space should be unused and untouched, but that's not the case.

"The township wants to acquire land to be untouched, land to acquire to be a park and land you want to acquire for general municipal use," he said.

While the changes by staff further defined recreation space on open space to include tot lots, basketball courts, parking and swimming pools, among other things, Zowniriw said he would like to see examples of items that would qualify under the general municipal purposes definition.

Orloff said he also wants to make sure items like stands on which to watch games and concession stands are also added to the list of allowable recreation items.

Supervisors also asked staff to further clarify how much open space can be used for general municipal purposes, which is currently limited to a maximum of 15 percent of all lands dedicated to the township under certain uses.

"Fifteen percent of what?" Zowniriw asked. "As we acquire more space, that 15 percent will continue to grow and how much acreage do we need for whatever general municipal purpose is?"

Other changes made by staff included limiting parcels used for general municipal purposes to be limited to a 50 percent maximum development limit, to ensure "that general municipal use open space parcels maintain the feel and character of an open space area."

Treadwell said staff did not intend for supervisors to vote on the changes at the meeting, and were expecting to make additional clarifications.

Township staff will work at making further changes.

The amendment passed in September came after a Commonwealth Court Panel ruled that Richland Township was in violation of its own zoning ordinances when it entered into a lease with the Upper Bucks YMCA.

At the time, Treadwell said the ordinance needed clarification for what open space could be used for, and the changes would give supervisors more flexibility in deciding how to use township open space.

The next meeting of the Richland Township Board of Supervisors will be held on March 27.

Toni Becker is a reporter for The Free Press. She can be reached at tkbecker@berksmontnews.com.

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