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Lancaster’s Tree Tops site to be developed

Lennar Carolinas LLC received the go-ahead from the Lancaster County Council on Monday night to build a partly age-restricted subdivision, the Reserve at Tree Tops, on property that some county residents were hoping would once again be a camp for underprivileged youth.

Lennar plans to submit a preliminary site plan to the county’s planning staff within the next couple of months, and hopes to break ground on the project by the end of 2015, according to Jon Hardy, division president of Lennar. He said the development of the site would be phased during the next eight or nine years.

Lennar plans to build more than 775 houses within a 237-acre cluster subdivision on the site, which is at 9070 Van Wyck Road, about 2 miles southwest of U.S. Highway 521. Lennar is leaving more than 370 acres as open space, some of which will be preserved and some of which will be used for walking trails.

Each home will cost between $250,000 and $400,000, and will sit on lots that are 55, 65 or 75 feet wide. The houses will be spaced 20 feet apart, and will range from about 40 to 50 feet in width.

At least 50 percent of the site’s property owners must be 55 or older.

The council’s 5-2 approval of both the county’s development agreement with Lennar and the rezoning of the 613-acre property came after little discussion, despite the fact the project was not supported by more than a dozen citizens who addressed the council at a public hearing on the development agreement.

Public hearings “sometimes get to the point where, at the third reading, you know (whether) words will be effective or not,” said Councilman Bob Bundy in explaining the council’s lack of discussion.

He also said the council had already discussed the property’s potential to be developed for a subdivision earlier this year when Mattamy Homes proposed a comparably sized subdivision on the property.

Mattamy withdrew its rezoning application in July, and Lennar proposed its plan to the county’s Planning Commission in October.

Those who spoke during the public hearing and during the citizen comments segment of the meeting opposed the project primarily because the property’s former owner, Fred Wikoff, had envisioned the site to remain a camp for disadvantaged youth.

Thompson Child and Family Focus, a nonprofit organization, took over The Family Center, which had been operating the camp, in 2008. After three years of trying to get the camp up and running again, Thompson put the Tree Tops property on the market.

Hardy said there’s some “behind-the-scenes work going on” for a similar smaller camp, but that it’s not a certainty.

He also said Lennar plans to leave all the remaining camp facilities intact, and repurpose them as amenities for the subdivision’s residents.  One of the site’s eight cabins will likely be turned into a post office, and the others would be used for community activities, such as a gathering place for Bible study groups.

Hardy said that Lennar plans as well to refurbish an amphitheater that’s on the site, which he called “The Chapel,” for residents to use as a community theater.

The council also approved an amendment to the county’s Future Land Use Map, which is used to guide the county’s long-term development, to accommodate the rezoning of the property. More than 388 acres of the Tree Tops site had been designated for public land use, such as public buildings and service facilities, and the amendment changed it to residential use.

Some residents said this was the county’s way of “customizing” its land use map to allow Lennar to build its project, and that the county needs to focus on attracting commercial and industrial development because it would generate more tax revenue.

“You all should know that subdivisions do not generate tax revenues,”Rosa Sansbury said. “If this is the best plan (the council) can come up with, why isn’t anyone here to support cluster subdivisions?”

Councilman Jack Estridge, who voted to deny the rezoning, the development agreement and the amendment to the land use map, suggested the council turn the rezoning down to provide time to settle on a plan that satisfied Lennar and Van Wyck residents. None of the other council members supported Estridge’s recommendation.

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