North Hopewell Twp. zoning board OKs fertilizer company's requests

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch
The location of a proposed fertilizer, pesticide plant site at 4687 Deer Rd. in North Hopewell Township, is shown with neighboring homes across Dairy Road in the background Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The North Hopewell Township Zoning Hearing Board deliberated for 45 minutes Wednesday before granting a special exception and variance to Helena Agri-Enterprises for its proposed fertilizer storage plant on Deer Road.

The special exception will allow the company to build a chemical storage plant in a commercial zone, and the variance will allow the company to use Dairy Road, a local road, as its main entry and exit point until the intersection of Pleasant View Road and Route 24 is reconfigured.

As a condition of the special exception, Helena must limit its liquid fertilizer applications at local farms to no more than 10,000 gallons of water used per day, to ensure that nearby wells won't be affected by large draws.

Some residents and members of the zoning board said they worried about Helena using up all the water available to nearby property owners with shallow wells.

"If you have a shallow well close to where they do a sudden draw-down, it could be a problem," said board member Gloria McCleary.

A fertilizer company is asking North Hopewell Township to rezone an agricultural property to commercial on Deer Road.
Sunday, March 1, 2020.
John A. Pavoncello photo

Helena officials said the operation wouldn't need a sudden draw-down because the water needed for an immediate use would be pulled from a storage tank inside the plant, and the storage tank would then be slowly refilled from the well, similar to the way a water tank in a toilet refills after each use.

The plant would use an average of 2,500 gallons of water per day, which is equivalent to the amount of water used by about seven residential homes, measured in equivalent dwelling units, or EDUs, said Steven M. Hovis, the attorney representing Helena.

"I think what we're trying to convey to the zoning hearing board is that our use of this property, and only utilizing potentially seven to eight EDUs of water, really does respect the neighborhood and doesn't do an injustice to the infrastructure that that neighborhood has," he said.

Hovis said it would be worse for the neighborhood if another developer bought the land and built upward of 30 homes spread out over 30 acres, which would use far more water than Helena.

The proposed site is a 34-acre parcel in the 4600 block of Deer Road bordered by residential properties along Dairy Road to the south and Route 24 to the west.

Helena is a Tennessee-based company with 450 locations nationwide, including a wholesale and retail facility in Shrewsbury borough.

The company plans to build three structures on the property: a warehouse, a dry fertilizer storage building and a liquid fertilizer storage building.

More:Fertilizer company seeks next approval for North Hopewell Twp. warehouse project

More:Fertilizer, pesticide company looking to set up shop in North Hopewell Twp.

North Hopewell Township changed the property from an agricultural zone to a general commercial zone in July to allow for development.

After Helena's 2.5-hour presentation, the zoning hearing board went into an executive session to deliberate.

Most public agencies are required to deliberate in an open meeting before the public, but a zoning hearing board is a quasi-judicial agency, said Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association.

"When an agency is operating like a mini(ature) court, they’re hearing evidence and then they’re making a decision, they’re allowed to deliberate privately," Melewsky said, "but they're not required to do so."