Franklin Township changes zoning regulations in favor of Gourmet's Delight expansion
● By J. Chambless
By John Chambless
With minimal public comment and a unanimous vote, the Franklin Township Board of Supervisors changed the township's zoning regulations on April 20, clearing the way for the Gourmet's Delight mushroom company to expand its operation on the border of London Grove and Franklin townships.
The change capped 13 years of arguments, and came about after the State Attorney General's office ordered the township to revise its zoning laws that had restricted mushroom farming.
At the April 20 meeting, township solicitor Mark Thompson explained that, “This ordinance went through many iterations before we arrived at terms that the Attorney General found acceptable. This was many months in the making. There are provisions in here amending mushroom substrate processing provisions, deleting pre-existing previsions providing for that in the Special Use district.
… Under the ACRE law, we can't unduly restrict agricultural activities in the township. We are correcting those deficiencies with these revisions.”
Board of Supervisors chairman John Auerbach said last month that the current township zoning ordinance specifically excludes mushroom activities, listing “Uses Permitted by Right” as including “Agriculture and buildings related to agriculture (exclusive of mushroom and substrate activities).”
After the ACRE challenge, “we must remove this parenthetical phrase,” Auerbach said. “We really have no wiggle room. If we fail to comply, the Pennsylvania Attorney General will sue us in the Court of Common Pleas.”
Auerbach pointed out that, “By definition by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, mushroom production is a farming operation. It cannot be specifically differentiated from other farming operations. … the township cannot impose rules that are more restrictive than state law or rules.”
Pat Talwin, who had led a resident group opposed to the plant expansion, said at the April 20 meeting, “The amendment allows consenting property owners to waive a 100-foot setback buffer. I don't understand why the township would agree to that, and what that has to do with ACRE.”
Thompson answered, “That's in the existing mushroom regulations, so that is consistent with the way the state regulates agriculture. In this case, there is at least 100 feet surrounding anything that's proposed on the Gourmet's Delight property. We were glad we could get the 100-foot setback provision in the zoning ordinance.”
Talwin said, “But the way it reads is that consenting owners can waive that. In the case of Gourmet, it's self-dealing. They own property in London Grove, and the adjacent property in Franklin Township. So they can agree with themselves to waive that 100-foot buffer and put a building right adjacent to the property line between London Grove and Franklin townships. That's very much a potential. It's almost a certainty, given their prior plans that have been submitted. Who knows what they'll build now?”
Thompson answered, “I can't speak to what they would or wouldn't do. But they couldn't straddle a property line. If they can control the stormwater issues, they could potentially put up a very large building for agriculture or farm use.”
The amendments passed unanimously. All documents related to the Gourmet's Delight issue are posted at the township website, www.franklintownship.us.
To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email firstname.lastname@example.org.