Wednesday, April 18, 2007

GettysBLOG: Cumberland Township's Supervisors' Star Chamber

Imagine our great surprise this morning when we found an account of last night’s unscheduled Cumberland Township Supervisor’s meeting about a proposed water park in the Gettysburg Times! Our favorite Times reporter, stalwart Scot Andrew Pitzer, wrote an excellent account of the meeting, though for the gravity of the issue, it received scant weight from the editors, as usual.

This is a common practice of the Times. Several weeks ago these same supervisors gave preliminary approval to a 345 unit housing development in the township. If the public wanted to know about it, they needed to read it in the Hanover Sun. The Times never reported on this controversial subject.

And last night’s meeting warranted front page coverage, and twice the inches that Pitzer was allotted for his article. Instead, we were treated to an article about the president of the American Legion Auxiliary visiting the area. While such an august event warrants good coverage by the local media, it would seem that an issue that drew “nearly 100 locals to the municipality’s headquarters” [see why I like Pitzer so much?] would weigh more heavily in the “news” department. Indeed, front page coverage was devoted to the recent Virginia Tech massacre above the fold, but below the fold was Madam President’s visit, and a disturbing article about the rest of the mobile home owners and residents at the Natural Springs Mobile Home Park near Giant being evicted for a large, as yet “unnamed big box store” [according to the Times Insider Reporter and major secret keeper John Messeder].

A reporter as good as Pitzer deserves better than what the Times shows of him. Repeatedly, his work has been censored in the name of editing, allowing only those details to escape that are deemed friendly to the pro-developer editor and owners. Why do we call them pro-developer? A tiger can not change its stripes. They were pro Wal-Mart on the distribution center project, they were pro Wal-Mart on the super store project at the proposed site of the casino, and they were most assuredly pro casino, despite any and all protestations to the contrary. Anyone close to the fight over the casino will tell you that if you wanted hard news about the casino project, you got it from the Hanover Sun, which, in the end, came out in favor of the casino, but still maintained an even hand in its coverage. Not so the Times, which remains today one of the most heavily biased newspapers in business. To the owners of the Times, development means increased circulation. It also means increased advertising revenue. So when they sell the paper, as they inevitably will, they will likely make an enormous profit on their investment.

Their editorial policy is to print little that would damage a development plan, and much in praise of it. Do not get us wrong here, we do not oppose development. We oppose development on the scale that Adams County is experiencing. As our favorite reporter puts it, “Adams County is the third largest county in Pennsylvania as far as growth…” quoting a Cumberland Township resident.

We can trot out all the trite clichés about cutting off the nose, and throwing out the baby with the bathwater, but what is happening in Adams County is going to destroy or seriously damage both of the industries that provide one of the greatest and most prosperous local economies in the nation. Apparently, for those with wealth, it is not prosperous enough, but for the middle class it is very prosperous, with low taxes, low cost of living, and higher than average income. But for “Old Gettysburg Money”, and for rich investors from Cumberland County, Adams County is covered in fields of gold.

The fruit industry will lose valuable land to developers, and with that goes valuable water, an already indispensable commodity to the South Mountain fruit growers.

Developing around the Gettysburg area is the death knell of the Battlefield. Oh how much the Old Gettysburg Money must hate the National Park for them to allow this destruction of the context for the Battlefield! Indeed, historic Hunterstown, where newly promoted Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer bloodied the nose of Major General J.E.B. Stuart and his vaunted Rebel Cavalry for the second of three times in four days during the late Gettysburg campaign, is about to be overrun with a 500 house development. Even more will be added to the west of that area extending to the west side of US 15 along the Biglerville Road.

The greed is so blinding that they cannot grasp how much of a jewel they have here, how much of a gift that keeps on giving. The fruit growing will come to an end [indeed, some canners are not processing local fruit any more!], and the little patch of green where great deeds were accomplished in a great and significant battle in a great and significant war that shaped our national identity, and restored a moral certitude where it had not existed before.

And so, we have coming into our midst, another out of town investor who wants the good citizens of Cumberland Township to change their zoning ordinance to allow a nearly 100 acre site to host a 100 unit condo complex, an indoor and an outdoor water park, a movie theater complex, shops, and restaurants to be located near the Boyds Bears, Eisenhower Inn location on old Route 15 [Emmitsburg Road] south of the Battlefield. Current ordinances do not permit a water park.

But during last night’s meeting, a nonplussed township solicitor Henry Heiser insisted that all the objections being raised were premature…and should be held until after the curative amendment allowing a water park to be built in the township is passed. We say nonplussed because it was apparent that the township was not expecting anything like the turnout they got last night. Two township patrolmen were called in off their beat to make sure things stayed under control!

Mr. Heiser is either lying or greatly mistaken [in which case the township is being ill served by his “services”} when he says commentary is premature. Indeed, when a “curative amendment” is being sought/proposed, there is no other time to protest it. After it is passed is too late. And the people present last night were viscerally opposed to the action, not just to the current developer, but to any water park in the township.

Adams County is talking about constructing a water pipe to the Susquehanna River in order to supply sufficient water for the immediate future of Adams County residents and businesses. We have approximately 100,000 residents in the county, and from time to time we have problems finding enough water. Now it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if you don’t build that water pipe to the Susquehanna, many of the 20,000 homes to be built here in the next five years [increasing the population by at least 50%] will wind up without access to water, and forced to drill deep, will lower the current Adams County water tables drastically. That is to say nothing of other development projects.

So into the midst of this situation rides Cali Entertainment, a company on its third attempt to build a Water Park in Adams County, having been driven off in Mount Joy and Franklin Townships before trying developer-friendly Cumberland. These rocket scientists are so filled with greed to get their claws into the gold fields of Adams County, that they cannot see there is NOT ENOUGH WATER for their grandiose scheme, nor would there be enough if the pipe already existed.

And the people of Adams County are about fed up with over-development. While township supervisors mouth lies/excuses [“we have to do it, its in the ordinances!”] they forget for whom they work. They work for the people, and the people want fairness, and shy away from drastic change. They do not want 1,000 home subdivisions, nor 500 home ones, nor do they even want 100 home developments. They are smart enough to know that very few of them will be able to afford what the developers are building here, in hopes of attracting people from Frederick, Harrisburg, Hagerstown, York, Lancaster, Baltimore and Washington. Those people will be lured here to high priced housing with low taxes because it will be cheaper than where they live --- until they get here, and find that not only have taxes skyrocketed, but so has the cost of living in Adams County.

So your developer-friendly township supervisors, who were developer friendly before they ran for office, continue to stick you with $500 for a permit to add on to your house, but our out of town developers get the royal treatment, with unlimited extensions of deadlines until they get their plans in line with codes, and if there is a stickling point, “No matter! We’ll grant an exception or pass a curative amendment.”

Is there any doubt who they work for? Nah. And they get a lot of cover from the Gettysburg Times, and from the County government.

Cumberland Township’s Board of Supervisors acts like a Star Chamber. They shun the light of day, spurning publicity at all costs. They have a plan for expansion of their building, but no one knows what it is. And they aren’t saying. All you residents of Cumberland Township who were asked for the go-ahead for this project, please raise your hands. Go ahead. Anybody? No? How curious. And this on the heels of a 100% increase in your township real estate taxes!

The Cumberland Township Supervisors change their meeting schedules so no one will come, then complain when only a reporter shows up. Who do they notify? Anyone out there who has been notified, please raise your hands. Anyone? No? How curious. They have a website. Nothing on it for announcements. No meeting minutes posted since January. On the County’s website, for Cumberland Township, they list their meetings for the first and third Tuesday of the month. In the past, we have driven up, and seen the sign in the window that says the same. And we sit there on one of those Tuesdays and no one shows. Nothing posted on the ample amount of glass on their door.

And the meetings are frequently run without allowing comment from the public, as there was an attempt to do last night. It failed.

Most business of the supervisors has already been conducted before the supervisors actually have their “public” session. And therefore, comment is unnecessary and useless because it comes after the fact…business is done before you even get in the door.

The township embarked on the preliminary phase of their facility expansion project last November, right after the election, when few people would be around. They tore out a lot of brush and filled part of the hill running down to Willoughby Run to increase the size of their level lot. Has anyone seen an environmental impact study for this project? What chemicals, silt, salt, and gravel, asphalt and oil will run down into Willoughby Run, and how will that affect the wildlife down there…the ducks, geese, raccoons, muskrats, deer, fish, crawfish, frogs, and so on?

These people have no respect for you or for us. None. They are filled with puffed up self-importance, and have to hide what they do lest they get caught. There is no observance of any sunshine laws. There is no “right to know” about plans. Heck, there is not even a noise ordinance in the township. Why bother. That’s just for the taxpayers, not for the business owners.

We hope and pray that these words will get you angry, and have you seething enough to show up at the next Cumberland Township Supervisors meeting and demand some answers. When the supervisors say, comments aren’t allowed, ask to see where that says such a thing! Demand answers. They are taking pay that you put out in taxes. It goes from your pocket to theirs. They work for you. They exist to protect YOU, not the developers, and they are doing everything but.

And remember, before you vote in May, GettysBLOG!


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thebystander said...

Actually, Cumberland's approval "several weeks ago" of the 345 unit housing development was for only 15 lots.

thebystander said...

secondly, I also think Scott Pitzer is a stalwart reporter. Don't know him personally, but the Gettysburg area should be thankful for his professionalism and unbiasness.

Novus Livy said...

If only the Times would allow his complete stories to be published.

Odd how information shows up in the Hanover Sun that never sees the light of day in the Gettysburg Times...if the Times even publishes a story on the topic.

theBystander said...

i did some research: the Gettysburg Times (scott pitzer) reported "Cumberland may expand municipal hall" in the April 7th edition.

Of course, his work was buried.