Warren County, Pa., controversy continuesRetail prevails over agriculture

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SALEM, Ohio – It’s often said promises are made to be broken. In Warren County, Pa., some people are thinking the same is true for votes.

After a landslide vote earlier this month to keep agricultural land preserved for farming, the Pennsylvania House changed its mind Dec. 16 and voted to remove an agricultural deed restriction.

This unprecedented move will pave the way for retail to roll into the ag-intensive county.

Ever since the bill was introduced earlier this year, it’s left a path of anger and hope – anger that agriculture could be compromised, and hope that the economically struggling community would get a financial boost.

Now the bill’s future is up to the state Senate and Gov. Edward Rendell. As of press time, the Senate was still considering the bill.

Agricultural deeds. A long-standing Pennsylvania policy says land owned by a county is restricted to agricultural use if sold or transferred.

At question are four parcels of adjoining land along a development corridor in Warren.

One of these parcels, a 22.7-acre piece owned by the county, has one of these deed restrictions. If it isn’t removed, dreams of a Wal-Mart Supercenter coming to town go down the drain.

The agriculture-use restriction makes it impossible for a new restaurant, gas station or any other developer to pour its concrete – that is, unless the state government removes the restriction.

Wal-Mart. County Commissioner Steve Sigmund has said once the restriction is gone, he hopes to accept an approximately $4 million bid from Echo Real Estate, a Wal-Mart development company.

He estimates the property tax revenue would be $864,000 a year and 350 jobs would be created – something he says is vital for the economically sluggish community.

Precedent. But it’s about more than just money.

Giving farmland up for retail development sets a dangerous precedent, according to Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.

Spokesman Gary Swan has said developers will have a whole new world if they think they can get these restrictions lifted.

(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at khebert@farmanddairy.com.)

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