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Possible interest from a foreign company had Lancaster County Council considering the idea of temporary employee housing for the first time in the county’s history during its meeting Monday, Aug. 12.
Presented as a change to the county’s code, council discussed a proposed ordinance that would allow such housing as a conditional use in the I-1, light industrial, and I-2, heavy industrial, districts.
County Planning Director Penelope G. Karagounis said the request comes from a company looking at moving to the county and interested in temporarily housing its foreign employees while they help train workers here.
She said the text amendment, recently approved by the county’s planning commission by a vote of 6-0, includes a list of 10 conditions that must be followed if a company chooses to create temporary housing.
The list was developed with the help of county planning staff, the planning commission and members of Lancaster County Economic Development Corp. (LCEDC).
The conditions include that total acreage of such housing not exceed 75 acres, housing not exceed 10 percent of the total property acreage, housing be allowed for no more than 10 percent of the workers employed on site, and housing structures should not exceed four total buildings.
The proposed ordinance launched a flurry of questions and concerns from council members, including what the definition of “temporary” means. Karagounis said temporary is defined as no more than one year.
As he scanned the list of conditions, Councilman Steve Harper disagreed with the percentage of employees who would be allowed to live on the work site.
“I think the percentage is too high because what if you have only four buildings,” Harper said. “There needs to be some restrictions about where they will be placed on the property and it needs to be smaller.”
Karagounis reassured council that one of the conditions states that housing is subject to review and approval by the county’s development review committee.
“That’s why the planning commission added ‘subject to planner review’ so that the fire marshal and building inspector could look at it,” she said.
Also a concern, Harper said, is making sure there are strict limits to the numbers of employees allowed to use temporary housing.
“The numbers of employees or bedrooms need to be limited because we don’t need to have it end up being a campus for their employees to stay,” Harper said.
Councilman Bob Bundy remained concerned that with a limited number of code enforcers on the county’s staff, it could be difficult to monitor these situations.
“We could have a migrant workers situation and could have someone live there for two years and might not know,” Bundy said.
With no precedent for such housing within the county, Councilwoman Charlene McGriff also recommended including more specific information in the amendment.
“Ten percent of the total workforce could be quite a bit and we need to designate the exact numbers,” she said.
With so many questions about clarification, Council Chairman Larry McCullough asked if the ordinance needed to go back to the planning commission for further work, though Harper didn’t want to hinder any possible economic development projects.
“I don’t want to slow down a project or hurt anything that’s in the works,” Harper said.
Instead of sending it back to the planning commission, Karagounis said council has the authority to modify any of the 10 conditions as part of the ordinance process. Based on the discussion, she suggested council focus on revising conditions dealing with total acreage and the numbers of allowable employees.
‘First of its kind’
To clarify the need for temporary housing, LCEDC employee Elaine McKinney explained how the idea originated.
“The project applicant plans to have people transitioning in and out because they said they want a certain amount of people to be on the property, get training and then go to their original area, without giving too much away,” McKinney said.
Karagounis said this was “the first of its kind in Lancaster County.”
“In industries it’s a new thing, particularly in Asian companies, to have their employees there at the site,” Karagounis said.
McKinney added that many foreign companies are used to having employees onsite 24 hours a day, though she did not elaborate on whether the interested company is from Asia.
Bundy reminded them that, if approved, the ordinance would apply to all businesses.
“This doesn’t just apply to one company and we can’t legislate for just one company,” he said.
Councilman Larry Honeycutt said that it could potentially be a useful tool for other companies, such as Haile Gold Mine.
Before the vote, County Administrator Steve Willis addressed the lingering problem of enforcement, stating that a new zoning inspector position would handle the monitoring.
Council then approved first reading by a vote of 6-1, with Bundy dissenting.
McCullough also appointed a committee made up of Harper, Bundy and McGriff to help refine the conditions listed in the ordinance. Council will hear the second ordiance reading at its Aug. 26 meeting. In Lancaster County goverment, ordinances must go through three readings for approval.
On Tuesday, LCEDC President Keith Tunnell confirmed the interest of a foreign company in relocating to Lancaster County, but declined to provide specifics.
“We have an active project that has requested some corporate housing to be included on some property it is looking at here,” Tunnell said. “This requires a text change.”
Though he is hopeful for the project, Tunnell could not mention the type of company, where it hails from, or if they are interested in relocating within the county.
“All I can say is there’s a large project looking in the county and this is one of their requests,” he said.
Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at (803) 416-8416