New zoning rules will allow limited commercial development by conditional use within the building envelopes of certain properties under conservation easements in Wrighstown.
On Dec. 4, the Upper Makefield Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance that opens the door for community theaters, art galleries, art studios, microbreweries, micro-wineries, brewpubs, tasting rooms, micro-distilleries and agricultural entertainment to occur in the building envelopes of Wrightstown properties that are at least 50 acres – provided that Wrightstown is named a grantee or beneficiary of the easements.
Conservation-related special events would be permitted too, as would retail stores serving as accessories to vineyards and wineries. Uses allowed by conditional approval in the underlying zoning district could also be established.
Wrightstown and Newtown Township had previously approved the ordinance, officials said. Even though the new zoning rules apply just to Wrightstown, township supervisors in Wrightstown, Upper Makefield and Newtown Township all had to green-light the ordinance because the three municipalities jointly manage local zoning.
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.