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Editorial: For development, time is money

One obvious effect of the recession has been slower real estate development. A less obvious, and perhaps beneficial, outcome has been the opportunity for municipalities to use the lull to think about growth more strategically.

Two Lancaster County townships offer examples of how planners and officials used the past few years to lay the groundwork for the future.

Concerned that development in Warwick "flatlined," officials got proactive. They went to existing businesses and asked how the township could support them. The result: solid proposals for at least two residential developments, an additional building near Heart of Lancaster Regional Medical Center and the Rock Lititz campus.

The township also took a look at how it could better support small businesses in the commercial district and worked with a big-box retailer to enable its opening while preserving the character of downtown Lititz.

Whether any or all of the proposed projects is built depends on the developers and an improving economy, of course, but the township sent a clear message that the welcome mat is out.

Next door in Manheim, officials took a different approach, rolling out a major revision to the township's zoning code in 2011. A highlight of that change was the creation of a Planned Commercial Development-1, which lays out a vision for development that discourages sprawl and includes visual standards that aren't entirely clear yet.

One developer is seeking to meet the requirements of the classification and the project — known as Belmont — is working its way slowly through the approval process. A public hearing has been under way since fall.

And that, admittedly, is the dangerous downside to having time to deliberate. No one wants to rush projects through — after all, a completed project will be around for many years, for good or ill.

But how much time is too much?

The aforementioned big-box project in Warwick Township took three-and-a-half years to work out the details. The Belmont project in Manheim Township has been through so many changes that, according to the developers, they ran out of letters of the alphabet to designate the successive versions.

Since it is the first to seek PCD designation, it is wise to proceed cautiously. But any development, to be viable, has to strike a balance between aesthetic and commercial considerations.

At what point does the developer — who needs to make money — walk away?

Municipal officials in Manheim need to ensure that any delays are limited, necessary and productive — and not an unspoken message to developers that they should just take their money elsewhere.

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