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Neighbors Fear Flooding, Traffic Issues With Church Development in Hatfield Township

Tony Di Domizio

Friday, July 25, 2014 • 5:03pm

A resident of Stewart Drive in Hatfield Township has just recently discovered that his home exists at the wrong place, wrong time.

He said FEMA recently changed the floodplain in the township to include his home and many other homes off of Clymer and Line Lexington roads. A creek flows right behind his house, he said.

The proposed rezoning, and potential subsequent development, of a 43-acre parcel at 3100 E. Orvilla Road, known as the Bishop tract, by Keystone Community Fellowship Church in Montgomery Township will bring a proposed 75,000-square-foot building, 622 parking spots and a baseball field that would be available to the public. It also comes with a proposed dedication of nearly 10 acres of open space to the township, most of which is comprised of a floodplain and creek.

“(It) will increase water in my backyard and make it more liable to get flooding on my property,” he said.

The flooding issue is so bad, he claimed, that in heavy rains, he gets golf balls in his backyard. Twin Woods Golf Course is adjacent to the Keystone property.

“They can’t control the floodwaters, but there will be an increase in the amount of water coming down the stream in heavy rainfall,” he said.

The property is, at present, zoned Limited Industrial, as is the golf course, the property at Bethlehem Pike and Orvilla Road and properties off Sterling Drive. Keystone desires to rezone the parcel to Institutional, in order to be allowed to build the church. Hatfield Township Commissioners will decide their fate, following an Aug. 27 continuance of the legislative zoning hearing Wednesday night.

The Stewart Drive homeowner said the current zoning doesn’t bother him at all. What does concern him, however, is the potential increased traffic on Orvilla Road with the development. The 1,000-congregrant Montgomeryville church is planning a new facility with a 1,200 seating capacity and 622 parking spaces.

“If you ever travel Orvilla Road on a Sunday morning – go through at 8 a.m., 9 a.m., 4 p.m., 5 p.m., or if there is any traffic problem on 309 – it becomes a highway,” he said. “They can do all the traffic studies they want. You’d have to make that a four-lane highway.”

He said a solution is to relocate to another vacant Limited Industrial location in the township. Keystone church purchased the tract in 2008 for $2 million from the estate of Richard Bishop.

“Go to Sterling Drive, and see how many vacant properties are back there that are industrial and unoccupied now,” he said. “These people bought this property knowing they could not build there when they bought it, and now they want to shove it down the commissioners’ throats. It’s time for residents to make our statements.”

He criticized Keystone Community Fellowship bringing supporters of the plan, ones who occupied nearly half of the standing-room-only municipal meeting room. It was nearly matched by opponents of the church plan, who will get a chance to have their say when the hearing continues Aug. 27 at 7:30 p.m.

“Don’t bus in people to talk about my township and my space,” he said.

Cindy Bourgeois and her husband, Ryan Gober, of Quincy Court, said the proposed concept is too big and in the wrong location, and it does not benefit Hatfield Township.

“They said the house is deteriorating. Hmm, I guess that happens when you take the siding off,” Gober said.

Keystone Community Fellowship Church business administrator Daniel Cardone testified at Wednesday’s hearing that the church contracted a preservationist from Hartland Demolition to preserve the house. Montgomery County records show a reassessment was requested in 2011 due to demolition of a building. The reassessment is unfinished at this juncture.

Hartland Demolition began to peel the siding off of a log home on the property, and discovered it to be a historic house dating to 1765.

Bourgeois said Keystone never consulted “any scholars or archaeologists” about the property. Gober said the Frick Meetinghouse across Orvilla Road is a preserved historic site. The Bishop tract house is the former home, and possible church, of Rev. John Funk, who broke off from the Mennonites to form the Funkites in the 18th Century, partly in opposition to the Revolutionary War.

 “This was probably the Meetinghouse before the Meetinghouse,” Gober said. “It is significant to the historic Frick site.”

At the hearing, Commissioner Scott Brown said the township is stocked with a lot of vacant Limited Industrial locations.

“For a business to come in and say, ‘Gee, let’s be right next to this floodplain,’ when they could go near a nicely planned out, paved, dry Limited Industrial vacant space that already exists,” Bourgeois said. “I think some of the tactics are to make residents here nervous.”

The Bishop tract was also recommended for preservation in the township’s 2005 comprehensive plan.

“Zoning is behind the times,” Gober said. “We’re not on the cutting edge of using zoning. It was designated as the number one open space parcel a long time ago. The township could have used zoning to preserve it a little more.”

Bourgeois said the 43 acres should remain as open space, as it draws people to communities. Megaplexes, she said, do not do that.

“(Pastor John Cope) talked about ministry and helping people. All of that is wonderful. They don’t have to be in this spot to help in those ways in our community in Hatfield,” Bourgeois said. “They could be a mile down the road in Limited Industrial. They could do that now with their place in Montgomeryville. If they are so concerned about our community needing help, they can come up here and offer to help mulch yards, which is easier than building a facility.”

Bourgeois said the development would lower property values.

“People will move,” she said. “I’ve heard them say it. I’ve talked to over 400 people about this issue in the last six weeks. I’ve done a lot of listening,” said Bourgeois, who also collected 700 signatures on a petition against the church plan.

“You’d be very surprised at what people are saying out there. They are very, very upset about this. They feel intruded upon,” she said. “And these are not people against the church or Christians; these include people who go to church here in Hatfield.”

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