Some 900 Hatfield Township residents are hopeful their petitioning as Hatfield Neighborhood Association will sway at least three township commissioners to one day soon vote against the proposed rezoning of a large tract of property on East Orvilla Road by Keystone Fellowship Church.

Wednesday night was the second night of testimony and comments -- clocking in at nearly four hours -- of an ongoing township legislative public hearing on the rezoning, continued from July 23. Keystone Community Fellowship wants to rezone 3100 Orvilla Road from Limited Industrial to Institutional to permit the church. The rezoning would also amend the zoning ordinance and zoning map, as well as rezone a portion of Orvilla Road frontage from Residential to Institutional. 

According to The Reporter Online, township Commissioners President Tom Zipfel said the issue may be discussed again at a September meeting, before taking any action.

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Keystone Community Fellowship purchased the former 42-acre Bishop tract from David Bishop, knowing full well it had to rezone to allow the church. It's dream -- to move from its strip-mall church on Stump Road in Montgomery Township to a 75,000-square-foot, 1,200-seat church, complete with baseball field and 622 parking spaces. 

Church officials are willing to dedicate 9.5 acres to the township as open space, but the argument lies on the fact that most of that acreage is covered by floodplain.

Read about Keystone Community Fellowship's prior testimony here

Appearing Tuesday night to discuss the potential cons of the rezoning's effect on the well-being of neighbors, and representing Hatfield Neighborhood Association, was attorney Ed Levine. Neighbors are mainly concerned with the possibility of an increase in traffic, not just on Orvilla Road, but Line Lexington, Clymer, School and other nearby roadways, and of more water being dispersed to the yards of homes on those routes. Some neighbors, at present, have homes sitting in newly-designated FEMA floodplain boundaries.

Resident Cindy Bourgeois has been the spearhead of the petition initiative.

Keystone's proposal, she said, is too large for the site, especially with more than 600 parking spaces and 1,200 seats. She said the proposed full gymnasium, classrooms, meeting spaces and the number of employees is too much for Orvilla Road. 

"I've talked to over 500 neighbors in the last two months. A repeating theme is how disappointed folks are with promises that developments would not negatively impact their neighborhoods," Bourgeois told TAPintoNorthPenn. "So many people in our township have become quite cynical about what they view as a serious lack of advocacy for the citizens. I'm not at that point yet. I believe a good outcome for the residents is possible."

Petitioning our government, she said, is a protected Consitutional right.
"The Hatfield Commissioners are under no legal obligation to grant this rezoning. This process is a legislative one. They will vote yes or no," she told "It is important that residents voice their views to their elected representatives in the most effective way possible. This is democracy. In America, we are guaranteed freedom to speak," she said.

Bourgeois said Levine presented the association's views in a respectful, informative manner. He was there, she said, to articulate their research and position.

"There are precedents in Hatfield Township for attorneys speaking on behalf of residents at rezoning hearings. There are also precedents for residents circulating and presenting petitions to influence their elected representatives in decision making," she said. "We're pursuing this because we feel the quality of life in Hatfield is at stake."

To Bourgeois, and perhaps many of her peers, there is one chapter of the Constitution they cherish:

The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania's public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people. 

"These are our homes, our neighborhoods, our history," she said. "First and foremost, our Hatfield commissioners are elected to protect the interests of the citizens of Hatfield. The Bishop rezoning decision is their call. I pray they will make -- not just an OK decision that we will have to learn to live with -- but the very best decision for the people of Hatfield."