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Bedminster land once eyed for development on way to preservation

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A 96-acre farm property in Bedminster Township, which was the subject of numerous failed development proposals, is now moving forward toward preservation.

At their Dec. 12 public meeting, the township’s supervisors accepted an application for inclusion of the parcel, bounded by N. Dublin Pike on the southwest and Bedminster Road (Route 113) on the southeast, in their Agricultural Security Area (ASA).

The application now moves to the township’s ASA Committee, and after that would proceed to the township and county planning commissions.

While ASA designation is primarily for protecting farmers from nuisance complaints and eminent domain actions, it is often a first step toward preservation, and supervisors said they understood that to be the case here, with the application requested by the Heritage Conservancy, which is “working with the owners.”

Supervisors estimated the property had been the subject of “6-10 development attempts that had been floated” over the years. It was the Kulp Brothers farm 50 years ago, and has changed hands a few times since then.

Also at the Dec. 12 meeting, supervisors approved a conservation easement agreement of sale for an 8.6-acre property that is part of the multi-parcel Bodder estate on Scott Road. At their Oct. 10 meeting, they approved an easement sale for a total of 66 acres there.

With over 7,000 acres preserved, Bedminster is understood to be the county leader in that regard. The township started its ASA in 1986, and it is understood to be first or second in the county, with Solebury Township, in total ASA acreage.

In other news, Township Manager Rich Schilling’s request for an additional $4,000 for the “hard” three-way traffic signal at Route 113 and Croft Drive, to replace the long-running yellow flasher there, was approved. The three-way signal has already been installed, but is still only flashing its yellow, which was reported at the November supervisors’ meeting as due to awaiting syncing on the new signal with others in the corridor.

Schilling said the extra funding was through the latest alteration request from PennDOT, which is to possibly consist of either changing the three-way to four-way, or adding visors on one or more sides.

The replacement signal was originally funded 15 years ago by a $50,000 donation from the developer of Bedminster Square, which is entered via Croft Drive. The total cost of the replacement now sits at about $105,000.

Wrightstown Supervisor Jane Magne characterized the new zoning rules – referred to formally as a Conservation Easement Overlay District – as a victory for local open space preservation efforts.

She said allowing limited development in building envelopes could make putting land into conservation easements more attractive to some landowners. Furthermore, allowing for low-impact commercial development in the building envelopes can help owners of conserved properties to generate value from their land while keeping the vast majority of the property untouched by development.

“We want to attract owners of large tracts to preserve them in a conservation easement,” Magne has said. “We also want to assure that there are economically viable uses for preserved land so the properties are sustainable and do not become derelict or the easements are not challenged by landowners as no longer viable.”

Magne and other local officials have emphatically stressed that the businesses listed in the ordinance would not be allowed on the easement-protected conserved acreage of properties, but in those properties’ building envelopes.

Building envelopes refer to acreage on an otherwise conserved property in which some development/improvements are allowed to occur. Usually, the envelopes are small relative to the size of the conserved land on a property. Wrightstown is not looking to allow improvements on the much larger portions of properties that fall inside the conservation easement.

Officials have also noted that the select operations detailed in the ordinance would be allowed only if the person/group wishing to establish such a use obtained conditional use approval from the township.

In zoning terms, conditional use permits come into play as exceptions that allow property owners to use their land in ways not otherwise permitted in a zoning district. As such, neighboring residents would be notified and there would be a public hearing before one of the businesses could receive approval.


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