Horn Farm receives conservation easement

David Weissman
York Dispatch

Horn Farm in Hellam Township will permanently remain an open space thanks to an agricultural conservation easement acquisition approved by York County commissioners Wednesday.

Horn Farm Center for Agricultural Education Executive Director Alyson Earl talks about malabar spinach amid the trellises used for vining plants in the incubator farm project section of the center in Hellam Township, Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Commissioners voted to release $30,000 in easement funds to the Farm and Natural Lands Trust of York County for the 264-acre property that can be seen by drivers on Route 30.

Sean Kenny, executive director of the trust, said the vote marked a "landmark day" for the township and county by choosing to preserve some of the best soils in the country.

Several board members of the farm, which has become an agricultural education center and farm incubator, attended Wednesday's meeting to thank commissioners.

June Evans, a founding board member, recounted how many people have worked long and hard to "preserve these prime soils for the future."

York County balances growth and farm land preservation

The county was deeded the farm in 1981, and the York County Industrial Development Authority had sought to develop the property on multiple occasions.

The development authority first proposed in 2000 that the county approve plans for an unnamed company — widely believed to be Harley-Davidson Inc. at the time — to develop the site, a project proponents said would create 1,400 jobs.

A top economic developer at the time called it "the project of the decade," but county commissioners withheld approval amid widespread objections from county residents.

The authority returned to the commissioners in 2001, proposing to turn the farm into a high-tech industrial park. Township officials supported the plan and proposed an amendment to the comprehensive plan — a municipality's blueprint for future growth — that would rezone the farm for industrial use.

Township officials quickly relented amid opposition from the county planning commission, which recommended the land remain an agricultural zone. However, the supervisors submitted a new plan that placed the farm in a future growth area, which meant it would likely be developed within 10 years.

Eventually, resident-formed lobbying groups won out, as the farm was removed from the growth area and from consideration for an industrial park.

The county approved a 99-year lease extension for the property with the nonprofit organization that runs it earlier this year. Kenny said this latest easement approval is more permanent because it applies regardless of ownership.