Voters in Washington Twp. will see a rezoning referendum on the May 8 ballot that will determine what kind of development happens on about 14 acres off Hithergreen Drive.
Township officials and the developer, Peebles Homes, say the property needs to be rezoned to ensure the natural green space, which includes mature trees and a creek, but residents who petitioned to put the referendum on the ballot say zoning rules are being ignored to cater to the developer.
The site includes a large shuttered brick building that would be demolished. The building has served many purposes over the years, including a middle school, a church and most recently an active senior recreation center, said Ryan Lee, Washington Twp. development director.
Lee said the preliminary plan that has been approved by the trustees allows for the “clustering of single-family lots” that would be higher-density housing when compared to the existing homes in the neighborhood. Doing so requires the property to be rezoned from Residential-4 to a planned unit development.
“The trade off there would allow for preservation of certain open space or community green space, including the wood preserve and the stream area on the property,” Lee said.
Peebles Homes reduced its first submitted plan from 36 lots to 30 to preserve the green space, according to the builder, Tom Peebles.
“We’re trying to cluster all the houses in one area and leave the green space there,” Peebles said. “The houses will still be high value. Higher than what’s out there.”
Asking price for the proposed homes would range from $275,000 to $400,000, Peebles said.
Brian Feldmeyer, who led the effort to put the referendum on the ballot, is telling voters to “vote no on issue 15,”
Feldmeyer said his campaign has a lot of support in the community, with more than 2,300 residents’ signatures collected in a matter of weeks.
“People have pooled their money and their time because this is very important to us,” Feldmeyer said. “I want to stress that it’s about zoning … There are rules that you’re supposed to follow and you can’t come in with a checkbook, open it up and work with the elected officials over the will of the people to get zoning changed. It’s not right.”
Feldmeyer said he personally would like to see the property turned into a park.
“This is the only area in the township that doesn’t have a park,” he said.
Without the zoning change, Peebles said his company would be under no obligation to preserve any of the natural areas on the property.
“I believe the plan for 30 lots is the best, simply because it saves the creek. It saves the trees and it saves the park area,” he said. “If they win the referendum, and we do an R-4 development, there’s no park area. Why would that be more superior?”