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Developer, neighbors pick collaboration over combat

Concerned citizens groups and real estate developers don’t always see eye-to-eye. Developers envision dollar signs near existing neighborhoods, and not long after, battles typically begin.

Concerned citizens groups and real estate developers don’t always see eye-to-eye. Developers envision dollar signs near existing neighborhoods, and not long after, battles typically begin.

A similar fight seemed inevitable early this year in Lower Paxton Township. Triple Crown Corporation Inc. submitted development plans to the municipality in February, calling for the construction of hundreds of single-family homes and townhouses on what was a 300-acre farm before it was approved for residential development. Triple Crown called the neighborhood Stray Winds Farm.

The news did not sit well with neighbors. In response, a group of residents calling itself SWAN (Stray Winds Area Neighbors) banded together.

“The problem we all confronted was that the farm was deeply planted in people’s hearts,” SWAN Chairman Eric Epstein said. “Initially, we did not support their (Triple Crown’s) plans.”

Thanks to teamwork and open dialogue, the two sides avoided a fight. SWAN realized the land in question would be developed sooner or later, Epstein said. The group chose to work with the developer to promote responsible growth.

SWAN’s conviction was tested early. Members of the community group were not happy with Triple Crown’s preliminary plans. Sketch drawings submitted to the board of supervisors did not address how increased traffic would be handled, nor did they include what SWAN considered to be enough natural buffer areas and open space, Epstein said.

The community group took issue with other details, but in the end, cool heads prevailed. Township officials encouraged the two sides to iron out their differences privately, and that is what they did. To date, both have met more than 20 times to discuss the project.

To move negotiations forward, each had to make concessions. For instance, at SWAN’s request, Triple Crown agreed to ask the township to rezone the land, taking it from a low-density to medium-density classification. This change would pull the new homes closer together and subsequently leave slightly more than 48 percent of the land undeveloped.

Triple Crown also agreed to keep the original manor house and barn, practically all of the existing tree lines and blaze a path for walkers and bicyclers.

Perhaps Triple Crown’s largest concession centered on road improvements. SWAN agreed to not fight the developer’s request to build more homes in exchange for $1.8 million in upgrades to the intersections of Colonial and McIntosh roads, and Crums Mill and McIntosh roads.

Triple Crown went further, promising to market 53 percent of Stray Winds Farm to residents ages 55 and over. This will reduce the amount of traffic entering and exiting the neighborhood, Epstein said.

“This is a high-profile piece of land. It’s the last large, intact, undeveloped tract of land in that area of the township,” said John DiSanto, Triple Crown’s president. “We met with SWAN, and they did a good job. They were not out to stop the development.”

DiSanto and his brother, Mark, run the business together. Both live in the area, and their company is based in Lower Paxton Township. Essentially, the developers are part of the community themselves and did not want to detract from the ambiance of their surroundings, DiSanto said.

Plans now call for the construction of 523 homes, 74 of which would cross over into Susquehanna Township. Lower Paxton Township has yet to approve final land development, said George Wolfe, township manager. Wolfe expects the plans to be submitted before the end of the year.

The developer is still requesting a zoning change in Susquehanna Township, said township Manager Gary Myers. Triple Crown needs a final blessing from Susquehanna Township supervisors because a portion of the project sits in the municipality.

Triple Crown will not break ground until at least next year, but the process could have taken much longer were it not for teamwork.

“I think other communities would be foolish not to do this. It is a trade off,” Epstein said. “You have to come to the negotiating table with more than an appetite. We all gotta live somewhere.” <

Let’s make a deal

Triple Crown Corporation Inc. and Stray Winds Area Neighbors worked together to avoid a conflict over a proposed Triple Crown development, shown in white, in Susquehanna and Lower Paxton townships. The development would include hundreds of single-family homes and townhouses on what was a 300-acre farm before it was approved for residential development. Triple Crown agreed to upgrades intersections at Crums Mill and McIntosh roads (1) and Colonial and McIntosh roads (2).

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