Robert Steele emphatically denied Tuesday that he and fellow York Township Board of Commissioners members engaged in a backroom deal to allow Heritage Hills to convert part of its golf-course property into a medium-density residential area of about 160 homes.
The decision to allow the homes stemmed from a December ruling by York County Court of Common Pleas Senior Judge Eugene Fike, Steele said during a public hearing held by the township on rezoning the golf-course property.
Fike ruled in favor of Heritage Hills after it appealed the commissioners' May 2010 decision to keep the 126 acres behind the Mount Rose Avenue resort as farming/open space. That would have prevented residential development there.
Steele said the commissioners are bound by the court ruling, which also allows Heritage Hills to build at a density of five houses per acre.
"At the order of the court, this board -- with the support of our staff -- we have proceeded to honor (the requirements) of that order," Steele said Tuesday.
Moments later, he gave a reluctant "yes" vote to rezone the area from farming/open space to medium-density residential, meaning homes can be built there.
Fellow commissioners Al Granholm, George Jones, Robert Kessler and Paul Knepper also voted to rezone.
Public hearing: Before voting, the commissioners had to fulfill the legal requirement to hold a public hearing about the rezoning proposal.
They heard from a half-dozen residents who oppose the rezoning, including John Bowders, who said the township signed away its residents' rights by agreeing to rezoning rather than standing by its initial decision.
He told the board to stop the charade of holding a public hearing on a matter in which a decision was already made without the public's involvement.
Dr. Douglas Schmitt, who lives on Heritage Hills Drive, said though the commissioners had a settlement with Heritage Hills, he hopes they will keep an open mind about residents' concerns.
Schmitt said he's concerned that extra homes will affect traffic safety, increase school taxes to educate extra students, and increase costs for sustaining the township's water and sewer infrastructure.
He asked the commissioners to negotiate with Heritage Hills to lower the number of houses planned for the area.
Heritage Hills attorney Stacey MacNeal said she attended the meeting to hear comments.
"Heritage Hills is happy the property is rezoned after four years," she said.
Zoning history: The property was zoned for medium-density residential use before 1988, when the prior owner requested -- and was granted -- a change to
farming/open space to allow for a golf course on the property.
An adjacent tract of land at the same time was rezoned to allow for 175 condominiums and 79 single-family homes.
In its court case with Heritage Hills, the township argued the rezoning was not spot zoning because it was requested by the previous owner and not mandated by the township. The township also argued the golf course serves as a centerpiece of the company's adjacent residential and commercial developments.
Fike upheld a township decision to reject Heritage Hills Associates' plan to build a traditional neighborhood development in the same open space.
That plan, called Village at Heritage Hills, would have placed a mix of detached single-family homes, townhouses and other types of housing alongside a redesigned nine-hole golf course and a handful of small businesses.
Heritage Hills partner Matt DeRose said Wednesday morning there are no final drawings for the development and it's not clear how much or whether parts of the existing golf course will be used.
The resort's long term plan is to combine its 18-hole course with the nearby 18-hole Springwood Golf Course, which it leases, he said.
--Reach Eyana Adah McMillan at 505-5438 or emcmillan@york dispatch.com.