Commonwealth Court upholds Valley Green Golf ruling
The nearly five-year zoning battle over the Valley Green Golf Course in Newberry Township is essentially over after a state appellate court affirmed the township’s denial of a request to rezone the property for residential development.
After an April 25 ruling by Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Senior Judge James Gardner Colins, Golf Enterprises Inc., the owner of the course, has only one appeal option left — asking the state Supreme Court to hear its case.
In October 2013, the Newberry Township Board of Supervisors denied GEI’s request to rezone Valley Green Golf Course from open space to residential growth after four public hearings at which the company faced off against a group of concerned residents.
The township rezoned the Valley Green Golf Course in 2006, changing the property’s designation as a commercial-recreational space to an open space to protect it from development.
GEI challenged the township’s 2013 rezoning denial, claiming officials illegally “spot-zoned” the course in 2006, as it was the only property rezoned as open space.
John Elliott, an attorney for the Valley Green Residents Organization, which has challenged GEI’s rezoning request over the past four years, said it is unlikely the Supreme Court will take the case as the York County Court of Common Pleas and the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court found "a number of reasons" to deny the request to rezone.
Elliott said he and VGRO members are “very happy with the ruling,” though they remain ready to continue defending the golf course if the Supreme Court does agree to hear GEI’s case.
“They consider it vindication of their years of hard work and effort to maintain the open space zone in Newberry Township,” Elliott said. “We are going to wait and see if Golf Enterprises attempts to do anything.”
He admitted VGRO had a “David vs. Goliath” mentality throughout the legal process, with “a group of regular citizens” fighting against “a well-funded corporation with a large Harrisburg law firm representing them.”
“That was definitely very satisfying for everybody involved to show that a group of regular citizens can band together and work to accomplish a goal like this,” Elliott said.
VGRO president LeeAnn Menut said the course is the “heartbeat of the community” and is a catalyst for bringing people into the township.
The community developed around the golf course, she said, and VGRO “remains committed to promoting growth in the area.”
“A lot of people said that we were wasting our time and that it wasn’t possible,” Menut said. “When you have a good core of people come together, a lot of good can happen.”
‘Heavy burden’ of proof: In his April 25 opinion, Colins wrote that GEI “did not meet its heavy burden” to prove that the township “spot zoned” the golf course.
Spot zoning occurs when a municipal zoning authority singles out one parcel or area for different treatment than similar surrounding land “for the economic benefit of the owner of that lot or to his economic detriment,” Colins wrote.
GEI did not prove that Newberry Township zoning officials made an arbitrary or irrational decision to rezone the property, and the township was justified in denying GEI’s request, Colins wrote, reaffirming a York County Common Pleas Court's 2015 ruling in favor of Newberry Township.
Township officials articulated reasonable justification for denying GEI’s rezoning request because the course’s open-space designation is “consistent with the township’s comprehensive plan,” Colins wrote.
Newberry Township also was justified in considering “the significant stress on the local and regional road network,” including a traffic increase of more than 400 percent that could exacerbate problems along Valley Green Road, the judge noted.
The Commonwealth Court affirms the county court's 2015 ruling that the Newberry Township Board of Supervisors “did not abuse its discretion or commit an error of law” in denying GEI’s rezoning request, Colins wrote.
Representatives at Golf Enterprises Inc. and McNaughton Homes, which owns GEI, were not available for comment.