Hog farm raises issue of zoning

Back in the 1970s, when communities like Duncansville were preparing zoning ordinances, people were told that such regulations would prevent undesirable land uses that might have adverse effects on neighboring properties and a municipality as a whole.

In reality, such thinking also was one of the foundations for Blair County’s Areawide Comprehensive Plan, which was drawn up and adopted about the same time.

The late 1960s and early 1970s were a time of awakening about the benefits of organized planning, for the short term as well as for the long term.

For this county, the Blair County Planning Commission and ongoing planning reviews remain valuable resources in ensuring that ideas proposed are consistent with Blair’s organized growth, development, land-use objectives and transportation assets and needs.

Reflecting on the planning of decades past, the reasons behind it, and its continuing, commendable impacts on the municipal, county and regional levels is appropriate at this time as some residents of rural Catharine Township are faced with the prospect of what apparently will be this county’s second hog farm.

Understandably, residents living near the farm’s proposed location harbor fears about unbearable odors and damage to water wells, and about whether this proposed land use will erode their property values.

According to a front-page article in Sunday’s Mirror, what’s planned is a 40,581-square-foot facility to handle 4,800 feeder pigs — pigs that will be finished as market hogs.

This editorial is in no way meant to oppose what Hemlock Lane Farm LP, owned by Robert, Darren and Randy Brubaker, is attempting to establish. We don’t pretend to be experts on such farms and concerns they might pose.

The Brubakers have been area farmers for a number of years, and by the way they have sought necessary approvals for the enterprise, it appears that, beyond their own interests, they’ve demonstrated positive interest in the county’s well-being too.

Meanwhile, the agencies responsible for reviewing the Brubakers’ plans also are charged with weighing ramifications for others nearby.

It’s important to note that a hog farm doesn’t guarantee problems, as demonstrated by the county’s first such enterprise, started in 2008 off Route 866 in North Woodbury Township near the Altoona-Blair County Airport.

“We have not had a single complaint since it was built,” said Rich Huether, agricultural conservation specialist for the Blair County Conservation District.

That’s cause for optimism for what’s planned in Catharine, but some Catharine residents living nearby probably now wish that their township had followed the lead of Duncansville and some other area municipalities 40 or 50 years ago that acknowledged zoning’s benefits and passed such ordinances.

Back then, zoning proponents raised the question of whether residents would welcome a slaughterhouse in their neighborhood — not impossible where zoning doesn’t exist, it was pointed out. Still, many municipalities remained opposed to — and still oppose — any restrictions on individuals’ property-use rights.

All municipalities and their residents must take responsibility for whichever option they choose.

For Catharine Township residents, though, the proposed hog farm has made them more attuned to the issue of zoning than they ever were in the past. It’s also reinforced that the “slaughterhouse warning” of a half-century ago wasn’t necessarily far-fetched after all.