York developer donates 25 acres to Habitat for Humanity


Decades ago, Charles "Chet" Downs was a driving force of York County development.

The former president of the York Builders Association built the Parkview Apartments in York City and various commercial buildings and homes elsewhere in the county.

Long-ago retired, Downs never got the chance to fully develop a 42-acre parcel of former farmland in Dover he bought in 1971.

He's decided to give a nonprofit the chance to fulfill that dream.

"This is the last thing," Downs, who lives in West Manchester Township, said Friday. "I've sold off everything I had."

Donation: Earlier this summer, Downs and his wife, Mary Jane Downs, donated 25 acres to Habitat for Humanity. Most of it is in Dover Township, though a few acres sit on the edge of Dover Borough.

The undeveloped land is along Route 74 across from Jim and Nena's Pizzeria.

Back in the 1970s, Downs said, he built about 30 homes on the parcel around Butter Road.

But the rest of the parcel sat vacant for decades — until about 2006, when Downs donated 6 acres of the parcel to Habitat for Humanity.

The nonprofit used the land to build 16 homes.

Impressed with the group's work, Downs said he wants the rest of the land set aside for Habitat developments. He recalled a home dedication back in 2006, when a new homeowner invited him inside to see what his donation had produced.

"And I'll tell you, it impressed us," he said. "This Habitat outfit, they're fantastic."

Zoning challenge: Tammi Morris, the group's executive director, said Habitat's first step will be starting a conversation with Dover Township officials about re-zoning the parcel from commercial to residential.

The 2.5 acres in the borough is already zoned residential, she said.

"We're not going to make any assumptions, but we're going to start the discussion," Morris said.

If the land can be zoned residential, then it could be developed in a variety of ways, she said.

About 24 single-family detached homes could easily fit in the parcel, with room to play and exercise, Morris said.

If Habitat chooses a townhome-style approach, there's room for "probably many more," she said.

At this point, there's no timetable for the potential project.

Morris said she asked Downs why he'd chosen Habitat as a beneficiary. He said, according to Morris, that he knows what it's like to struggle and he wants to help other people in that situation.

"Are we grateful for the land? Absolutely," Morris said. "But it was the heart behind the donation that most impacted me."

— Reach Erin James at ejames@yorkdispatch.com.