EDITORIAL: 'David' beats 'Goliath' in zoning battle

York Dispatch
  • A state appellate court ruled that Valley Green Golf Course is legally zoned as an open space.
  • The ruling essentially ends a long zoning battle over the Newberry Township course.
  • The owners wanted the golf course rezoned for residential development.

A court decision about municipal zoning will normally draw yawns.

There’s no denying that it’s not the most scintillating topic in the world.

That’s unfortunate, because zoning regulations can have a real and lasting impact on the lives of local taxpayers.

That was the case recently when a nearly five-year zoning battle over Valley Green Golf Course in Newberry Township was essentially decided by a state appellate court ruling

Members of the Valley Green Residents Organization (VGRO) John O'Keefe, left, Ken Menut, LeeAnn Menut, John Elliott, Mary Miller and Kris Mailey, right.  Sunday, May 7, 2017. John A. Pavoncello photo

On April 25, Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Senior Judge James Gardner Colins affirmed the township’s denial of a request to rezone the golf course for residential development.

Golf Enterprises Inc., the owner of the course, has only one appeal left — asking the state Supreme Court to hear its case.

Such an appeal would appear unlikely.

The decision was welcome news for the majority of local residents who favor more open spaces, more recreational opportunities and less traffic. The alternative — more houses, fewer recreational opportunities and more traffic — was decidedly unappealing, except perhaps to GEI’s bottom line.

Commonwealth Court upholds Valley Green Golf ruling

In October 2013, the Newberry Township Board of Supervisors denied GEI’s request to rezone the golf course from open space to residential growth. That came after four public hearings at which the company faced off against a group of concerned residents.

In 2006, the township correctly rezoned the course from a commercial-recreational space to an open space to protect it from development. GEI challenged that ruling, claiming Newberry Township officials illegally “spot-zoned” the course, since it was the only property rezoned as an open space.

Once GEI decided to fight the course’s zoning, a group of concerned citizens decided to fight GEI. Valley Green Residents Organization  challenged GEI’s rezoning request.

Now, it appears, that VGRO has defeated GEI in the alphabet-soup battle, although VGRO attorney John Elliott said the members of his group remain ready to fight GEI if the Supreme Court does agree to hear GEI’s case.

Elliott said VGRO members had a “David-vs.-Goliath” mentality throughout the long legal process, fighting against “a well-funded corporation with a large Harrisburg law firm representing them.”

A five-year battle over building new homes on a Newberry Township golf course is over after a state court affirmed the township’s denial of a request to rezone the property for residential development. Tuesday, May 2, 2017. John A. Pavoncello photo

Elliott went on to say that the court decision “was very satisfying for everybody involved to show that a group of regular citizens can band together and work to accomplish a goal.”

Elliott was right. This was a classic case of an involved citizenry and responsible government officials fighting together to do the right thing.

Even better, they not only fought, but appear to have won.

“David” beat “Goliath.”

When put it in those terms, a topic that normally draws yawns becomes a whole lot more compelling.