By Anya TikkaMILFORD TOWNSHIP — Big plans for economic development got an airing April 28, in a sometimes-heated exchange between Milford Township supervisors and the planning board.
Mike Sullivan, executive director of the Pike County Economic Development Authority, said Pike is a great place for the East Coast's next boom. He presented officials with a six-part plan that will make the county more attractive to business, and urged greater speed in getting commercial projects approved (see sidebar).
Davis R. Chant, a chamber of commerce representative and realtor, agrees that Pike is the next big thing. He pointed to the success enjoyed by neighboring Orange County, N.Y. — which, not so long ago, was undeveloped farmland.
“Across the river, you have the strongest economic county in New York for years and years now,” he said.
He said Orange County has benefitted from its proximity to New York City, lots of nice land, and extended water and sewer service.
“Today, there are 27 business parks in Orange County with a 4 percent vacancy rate," said Chant. "Companies came from England, Scotland, and all over the world. Right now, it’s the very best time that I’ve seen to get some really good jobs in Pike County.”
Ready and waitingSullivan said businesses are interested in permits already in place. They want to avoid long waiting periods and uncertainty, he said.
“This is a major opportunity for Pike County,” said Sullivan. “One of the things that would make the county competitive is pre-approvals."
He said the strategy was used successfully elsewhere to attract business.
"They don’t want to go through the lengthy approval process that can take two to three years," said Sullivan
But the planning board expressed skepticism. Chair Kevin Stroyan and other members asked tough questions, including what it will cost taxpayers to serve an influx of new residents.
Planning board member Karl Merchant said he’d learned the hard way not to rush.
“I think if we go slowly, examine these things — sometimes it’s just a matter of examining things, education, and an informed change," said Merchant. "Carte blanche the governmental process — that’s wrong."
Supervisor Gary Clark, who supports zoning amendments to accommodate large-scale business parks, sounded exasperated.
“They elected me to make sure change does happen," said Clark. "It should have gone to planning, then supervisors, and then it’s done. We’re stuck in a rut. Change is very hard for people because it’s change. But when it happens, it seems to flow through.”
Several planning board members asked how pre-approved properties would benefit Pike.
Sullivan referred them to data on his handout. He said studies show that for every dollar of revenue commercial and industrial properties bring in, the cost of services is 29 cents. Working and open land costs 37 cents for every dollar of revenue, he said. And he said residential properties actually lose money — costing local taxpayers $1.19 in services for every dollar of revenue.
Clark said some of the zoning changes would affect residential properties, but they're mainly intended "to loosen up business."
“People are sick of government, the way it works," said Clark. "I think how much trouble it is to actually take ordinances and make it a little more relaxed for the constituents out there.”
Chant, the realtor, said he's been "pitching Pike County hard" to companies thinking of expanding.
“Quality of life, taxes, schools are better here," he said. "In Milford Township in the next few months, some nice properties are going to come up for subdivision into a business park, for two- or three-acre lots to build 30,000- to 50,000-square-foot site coverage. We’re going to try to get those particular properties pre-approved. It’s a great opportunity.”
Sullivan said the Authority was seeking approval from the township's planning board plus the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
At the suggestion of planning board member Viola Canouse, everyone agreed to go over the suggested zoning ordinance changes one by one, then create a new draft based on their discussions.