GETTYSBURG, Pa. - Far from being in an ivory tower, Gettysburg College students in an environmental studies seminar are engaged with the real-world locally as they studied growth, development and concerns about "urban sprawl," and what that means for one local community.
Seniors in an environmental studies seminar spent last semester examining the ecological, social and economic impacts of a proposed 455-home development near Gettysburg. The students concluded that the proposed development would reduce the tree canopy, alter the natural hydrology of the land and require an expansion of infrastructure and public services. The students are proposing a different solution.
The students' research, evaluation and conclusion caught the attention of the local media, and their work was featured in Jan. 13's Hanover Evening Sun. The complete article appears below.
Students look to change proposed development's impact on area
By STEVE MARRONI
Hanover Evening Sun Reporter
They grew up around the country, in neighborhoods, suburbs and quaint, rural communities, and these Gettysburg College students do not like the way the future of housing in Adams County looks. A landscape of cul-de-sacs, identical homes and isolated, pod-like communities.
The students, many of whom are studying to be planners, examined urban sprawl, and took a look at a local example of developments they believe fit the definition. About a dozen seniors set their sights on two developments going into Butler Township, and came up with an alternate plan as part of their environmental studies research seminar project.
Randy Wilson, professor of environmental studies, said his students looked at two sites - the 161-acre tract proposed for Summerdale and the 89 acres on which Biglerville Crossing is planned. The proposals consist of 455 homes.
The plans developers submitted call for relatively few trees and plenty of hard surfaces, creating a plethora of drainage and air-quality problems, the students say.
A 456-home development, including some condos and townhouses in lieu of many proposed houses, with added trees, and less traffic congestion. It would keep the Biglerville Crossing location rural, and place all of the homes within the Summerdale development.
Townhouses and condos replacing some of the houses would create room for more open, green space in the development, the students say. Developments like the students created is a green design.
"We tried to follow environmentally friendly subdivision principles," Wilson said. Butler Township gave approval last year to preliminary plans for several developments, including Summerdale and Biglerville Crossing.
Knowing the community
Many of the students went out to the site along Russell Tavern Road, examined the location and talked to the neighbors. Others crunched the numbers, researched developments and used four years worth of classes in this real-world activity.
"It's not just a class project," said Alexandra Bigler, 21, of East Haven, Conn. "We're taking a real piece of land, and dealing with real neighbors."
In talking to the neighbors, many of whom opposed the developments, she came to believe those developments do not belong in Butler.
But, if the development has to go in, she would like to see something more like she and her classmates created.
"I know development is going to happen," she said. "You can't say growth can't happen. The people who are encouraging the growth and building houses really need to take a look at the overall picture and build where it's responsible to build."
The development as it is planned now, she said, is in the middle of nowhere, with no infrastructure in place, and drainage, air-quality, traffic and lifestyle problems.
Students have already presented their findings at the college. They hope this spring to show their plan to both the Butler Township supervisors, and the developer, and will soon be presenting it in Boston to the Association of American Geographers.
Maggie Dobbs, 21, of Ellicott City, Md., said the most important lesson she took from the exercise is that developments can be sustainable. There is a way to build in rural locations, and, with a little creativity, avoid sprawl.
Matt Shank, 21, of Reedsville, Pa., said he enjoyed using the knowledge he gained over the last four years and applying it to a real project.
According to their research, the developments as planned would reduce trees by 56.4 acres, reduce green space by 111.8 acres, and increase impervious spaces by 28.3 acres.
The students' plan keeps the Biglerville Crossing section as farmland, and creates two entrances into the denser Summerdale development, as well as gathering areas and shops for a sense of community.
Tress have been added as buffer zones, a move students say would improve the air quality, students project.
Wilson hopes his students not only took away a lesson in working on a real-life project in a group, like they will as future planners, but he hopes they can apply it as future homeowners.
"I hope it gets them to think about how they live their own lives in the future, and that they'll have an awareness that there are choices out there," he said.
The future of Adams
Richard Schmoyer, director of the Adams County Office of Planning and Development, spoke to the students about the history, and future, of development in the county. While developments like the one the students proposed are common in some parts of the country, it would be relatively new to Adams County. Schmoyer said most are single homes, and not many townhouses.
Pennsylvania is among the slowest growing states, but Adams County is among the fastest growing in the state. Between 1950 and 2000, Adams' population rose about 15 percent each decade.
The most recent, big housing-development boom came several years ago, mostly between 2003 and 2005. It has slowed down. In 2007, Schmoyer said his office saw about 388 new building permits, compared to 702 in 2005.
Initially, developments came near towns and infrastructure, and along the Route 15 corridor.
A different pattern began to emerge. Larger developments, 200 and more houses at a time, farther out in empty areas like Butler Township. That's what the students want to avoid.
With the apparent slowdown in development in Adams, and in the housing market, there may be time to prepare for the future, Schmoyer said.
"I do think we have an opportunity through this slowdown to make sure, across the county, we have our planning in place and our ordinances up to date," he said.
It's a time to think about infrastructure and land conservation. The housing market and developments are sure to boom again in the near future, he said. Having the plans in place now will prevent scrambling and playing catch up as many had to do in the early part of this decade.
But, for now, things have slowed down, and there may be some changes, at least in this area, when these students are ready to be homeowners, themselves.Now, many of the new homeowners in developments are retirees who moved to Pennsylvania where pensions are not taxed, and many are commuters. Baby-boomers make up a good portion of the population. But, growth and professional businesses coming to the "urban fringe" around Washington, D.C. and Baltimore in the coming years will likely be pushing a new demographic to Adams County.
If future planners are like the Gettysburg College students, though, their communities and developments can look quite different than what has popped up over the last few years.
For now, Wilson and his students hope they can meet with Butler officials and the developer and present their plans, and possibly influence a change in plans.
"I hope it opens some folks' eyes for the next time (a big development) comes down the pike," Wilson said. "There are a lot of options besides the standard cookie cutter."Posted: Mon, 21 Jan 2008
Get all the latest news delivered to your inbox or RSS reader:
The Office of Communications and Marketing is looking for stories about Gettysburgians doing great work.
Send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.