SOME HISTORY, WHERE WE ARE TODAY, AND WHERE WE’RE HEADED
The September 2017 Newsletter had a very short – bullet-point – version of this narrative. This provides more information on topics in the Newsletter as well as additional subjects.
If you’ve lived or traveled through Hampden Township for a while, you’ve seen many changes. This mini-history highlights where we came from, what we are today, and some of what is planned for the future.
Hampden Township was incorporated in 1845. Long before we achieved that status, in 1798, the cornerstone was laid for what is now known as Historic Peace Church. (one year after George Washington left the presidency and a year before he died). In 1863, Hampden was the site of the Battle of Sporting Hill – the northernmost battle of the Civil War.
By 1960, Hampden was officially designated a Township of the First Class (partly, but not solely, based on population – about 6,600 at that time). Much of the Township was still farmland but it was starting to evolve toward a more suburban environment. Ten years later, it had grown to about 12,000 residents and currently has about 30,000. We’ve grown – to become the most populous municipality in Cumberland County. And that growth resulted in big changes.
Hampden is part of the corridor between our state capital and biggest regional municipality (the City of Harrisburg) and our county seat (Carlisle). That brings both advantages (great economic stability) and detriments (high traffic levels). The Township hosts the Naval Support Activity, Mechanicsburg (virtually all of which is in Hampden Township) with its 5,000 personnel (mostly civilian) – a great economic asset for Hampden and the surrounding area that also brings more traffic (including large trucks). When you add the businesses that operate in Hampden, our daytime population is significantly greater.
One of the advantages of growth is the revenue stream it produces. It has helped maintain a period of forty years during which property tax rates have remained constant or been lowered. The rate, which under the state Constitution must be the same for residential and non-residential properties, is currently .156 mills (that’s $15.60 per year on each $100,000 of property value). It is one of the lowest in Pennsylvania for a First Class Township (which, among its amenities, is required to provide police services).
In 2010, the Board of Commissioners (BOC), recognizing that we are running out of land available for development (a big contributor to revenues), started thinking about ways to ensure continuation of a fiscally sound Township over the next several decades. The BOC also recognized that redevelopment of commercial properties will, inevitably, occur in the southern part of the Township (primarily along the three major east-west corridors of Carlisle Pike, Trindle Road and Simpson Ferry Road). After a thorough study (involving committees of interested residents, business owners and other stakeholders), in 2015 an Overlay Mixed Use Zoning District Ordinance was adopted. That Ordinance allows for future growth along with updating of infrastructure, mitigation of traffic problems, and addressing environmental issues through incentives to developers to conserve energy and water and to provide for walking and bicycling by installing sidewalks and paths when redevelopment of existing properties occurs. It will be a long, slow process as property owners sell or redevelop, possibly two to three decades, but the regulations are in place to move ahead.
Redevelopment is now taking place in the Mixed Use Zoning District. Several (locally owned) restaurants have opened or are being constructed. The former Kmart Plaza is undergoing major renovation and will house retailers new to the area. Union Flats, a new residential development at the intersection of Trindle and Sporting Hill Roads, is open. Other property owners have contacted the Township about redeveloping in accordance with Overlay District standards.
The northern part of the Township has seen much of the newer residential development. It also has new business properties (Giant and Weis Markets, for example) and the Technology Park that hosts many office facilities as well as the PinnacleHealth complex (West Shore Hospital, Fredricksen Medical Center, and Ortenzio Cancer Center). Because of the increased traffic, PennDoT is conducting, at the Township’s request, a safety study of the Wertzville Rd. corridor that is expected to be completed by the end of 2017. A committee of residents, business property owners, utilities representatives, state elected and administrative officials, and other interested parties will be formed to consider and make recommendations for the future of that corridor.
Cumberland Valley School District is constructing new schools along Lamb’s Gap Rd. (one each in Hampden and Silver Spring Townships). Redesign of state-owned Lamb’s Gap Rd. was engineered by the School District in cooperation with PennDoT and with Hampden Township concurrence.
Hampden Township has provided recreation areas for many decades (parks and playgrounds, a swimming pool, Armitage Golf Course, soccer and baseball fields for casual use and for athletic associations, tennis courts, etc.). As interest develops in other sports, changes are made such as new pickle ball courts. Playground equipment is upgraded, when needed, especially for safety concerns. When possible, grants are obtained to help with funding. Two popular annual events are the July fireworks (jointly with the Navy) and Creekview Family Fun Night. Hampden’s annual HMMS Memorial Day Soccer Tournament draws teams from a large geographical area. The Recreation Department organizes many events throughout the year for all age groups – children to senior citizens. Fredricksen Library provides book drop off/pick up service as well as children’s reading programs. A Veterans Recognition Park is being developed; land on Smith Drive will become another park; and a recently acquired (donated) property on the Conodoguinet Creek, opposite the entrance to the Indian Creek community, is being planned to provide access to the creek for fishing and other water-related recreational activities like canoeing and kayaking along one of our great natural resources that snakes its way through the Township. Armitage (perennially voted “Simply the Best” golf course) and the pool are “enterprise” operations funded by user fees, not tax dollars.
Physical fitness has gained attention in the past couple of decades. Several private exercise and training facilities have opened in Hampden and surrounding communities. The Township is doing its part as well. To promote the concept of a livable, walkable community, Township ordinances, in recent decades, require the installation of sidewalks and walking trails with new development. The intent is for residents and others to be able to safely walk from one location to another. Over time, the Township vision is for a system of interconnected sidewalks and walking/biking paths allowing individuals to walk/bike to other developments, shops, restaurants and Township parks. But where developments were built prior to implementation of those ordinances, property owners would have to voluntarily cede part of their land to the Township. The Township could take property by eminent domain but the BOC, over the years, has rejected that approach because it abuses owners’ rights, is very costly, and could take years to litigate. In addition, topography in some areas precludes such facilities. It is important to note that most of the major thoroughfares are state-owned roads over which the Township has no control.
In 2016, the Township updated its Comprehensive Plan and adopted an Official Map. These expand opportunities for potential needs, including roads, trails, and paths through the Township (see Township website, click on Maps, Forms & Ordinances). It allows the BOC to designate locations for rights-of-way and to negotiate with developers for installation of such facilities at no cost to the Township and without requiring eminent domain takings.
While Township ordinances require installation of sidewalks and walking/biking trails by private developers, the BOC recognizes the need to do such installations in Township parks and within road rights-of-way as well. Toward that end, staff was directed to install a bituminous walking path along Lamb’s Gap Road from the bridge crossing the Conodoguinet Creek to the signalized crosswalk at the intersection with Silver Spring Drive. Funding was allocated in the 2017 budget and the project was recently completed. Other paths are planned for future implementation.
Over the past decade or so, Hampden (along with the rest of the nation) experienced a period of economic downturn. Development was limited, compared to prior years, and that negatively impacted revenues. While state and federal taxes kept rising, the BOC did not want to further burden taxpayers with more dollars out of their pockets. Fiscal restraint saw us through that period. When possible, capital purchases were delayed and road resurfacing gave way to temporary fixes. In the early 2000s, new federal and state unfunded mandates were thrust upon municipalities for treatment of wastewater. A few years ago, more unfunded mandates were added for stormwater mitigation. Under a new state law, the Sewer Authority took on new responsibilities, becoming the Sewer/Stormwater Authority. A stormwater fee was adopted to address those issues and to provide for equitable allocation of costs among all property owners (unlike taxes which are not paid by non-profits or federal, state or county governmental entities).
The Township owns and maintains approximately 115 miles of roads. In 2015, a financing plan was implemented for Township roads that enabled us to complete approximately 10 years of road work over two years. That included road resurfacing, federally mandated upgrades to accessible sidewalk curb cuts, and stormwater mitigation upgrades (with costs apportioned between the Township General Fund and the Sewer/Stormwater Authority). The payout is over 10 years, at the annually budgeted rate of $1 million. Because of the low interest rate we were able to negotiate, and because resurfacing costs increase each year they are delayed, the refinancing actually resulted in cost savings.
The Hampden Township Volunteer Fire Company is a great asset to our community. These volunteers risk their lives on our behalf responding to calls and they participate in countless hours of rigorous training. Mutual Aid agreements exist among various local fire companies so volunteers respond in their own municipalities as well as others when required. The Navy Base has a paid fire company and they are often the first to respond to daytime fire calls (while our volunteers first have to get to the fire station and then board equipment). Hampden Township owns and supports the two fire stations and much of the apparatus and other equipment. It’s not cheap – in the past few years, for example, two fire trucks were rehabilitated and brought up to standards at a combined cost of approximately two million dollars.
The Township has outgrown its current Municipal Building. Built in 1962 (when Hampden’s population was about a 1/4 its present size), it was updated and expanded several times over the decades as our population grew. The BOC retained an outside professional consultant to review the situation and to make recommendations concerning the possibility of again upgrading the current building or constructing a new one. They concluded that the existing Municipal Building cannot accommodate the space needs of Hampden now, much less into the future, for personnel or parking. No realistic opportunity exists for expansion of the current building as the structure and parking lot already significantly exceed the maximum lot coverage under current ordinances.
A new building will enable us to address current and future needs at a reasonable cost, while employing cost-saving “green” technologies. It will also allow us to address other issues. For example, the Police Department currently has 26 sworn officers and two civilian support staff, versus just three officers in the early days. In 2009, it was one of only 115 out of 1,117 police agencies in the Commonwealth to earn accreditation from the Pennsylvania Law Enforcement Association Commission, and it has maintained that status of professionalism and very high standards ever since. It is currently housed on parts of two floors which is inefficient for police duties. Other departments are also short on space. Security and technological upgrades are needed in today’s office environment. Parking is inadequate for residents and others to attend meetings.
The BOC retained Kimmel Bogrette Architecture to develop a site layout and design for a new Municipal Building. The site is located on South Sporting Hill Road, across the street from the existing building, on land already owned by the Township. The new Municipal Building will provide functional office and meeting space for the following departments: Administrative, Community Development, Finance/Utility Billing, Public Works administrative staff, and the Police Department. It will include meeting space for the Board of Commissioners and other Hampden boards, commissions, and authorities to conduct business and hold public meetings. It will also house the Township’s elected Tax Collector and the Capital Region Council of Governments (under a long-term lease with the Township). Some departments require easy access for citizens, developers, and others in the regular course of business. The design will accommodate good customer service while limiting access to other parts of the building for security reasons. At the same time, design will take into consideration how Township departments work with each other and will allow for the best flow of information and work product. The design phase is expected to be completed by February 2018. Requests for Bids will then be advertised for contractors to submit competitive bids for construction. Disposition of the present Municipal Building and land will be determined as the project goes forward. Based on early estimates, it is expected that all costs will be handled within current budget levels (necessitating no tax rate increase).
Hampden Township continues to evolve. Read the Newsletter, check in on the website, and sign up for email notifications of emerging issues like road closings or health and safety matters. Police notices make use of social media (Facebook, Twitter, Nextdoor, etc.). If you have questions, call or write Township staff who will have the answers or put you in touch with someone who does.