LITITZ, Pa.-LititzDailyNews.com)–Sparks flew on social media Saturday after it was announced that proposed construction by Lancaster’s Oak Tree Development Group at the former Wilbur Chocolate factory may put an end to the Fourth of July fireworks display held in Lititz Springs Park.
On Tuesday, LititzDailyNews.com broke the story that the developers behind the proposal that would also displace Little League teams from Wilbur Fields complex are the owners of the Lancaster Barnstormers professional baseball team, principal owners of Oak Tree Development Group.
Barnstormers owners Ian Ruzow, Rob Liss, Steve Zuckerman, and Bob Zuckerman announced through their Oak Tree Development Group a plan to turn the Lititz’ beloved Wilbur Chocolate factory property into a boutique hotel, luxury apartments, and two structures housing 55-plus condominiums.
“Due to the planned development, this display will most likely be the last fireworks display held at the Park,” Tim Reedy, chairman of the Lititz 4th of July committee, posted to both the Lititz Springs Park and Lititz 4th of July Facebook pages on Saturday.
The announcement on Facebook sparked ire in the community, where the fireworks have been a cherished part of the Fourth of July celebration since 1846.
“So first the kids lose their little league fields for which they have invested thousands in repairs and upgrades and now the 4th of July Fireworks event,” posted Michael Joseph to the Facebook page. “We call this progress or a Borough Council that conceded to a private sector developer? Time to hold someone accountable.”
After the Wilbur site construction plans were announced by Oak Tree Development, Lititz Borough Council member Corey Van Brookhoven told Central Penn Business Journal “I’m glad there will be a new use there.” Van Brookhoven leads the Lititz Historical Foundation and writes a monthly column for the Lititz Record newspaper.
Local residents for whom the fireworks have been a family tradition are reeling in the wake of Reedy’s announcement, and they responded in frustration to his social media posts.
“After 28 years of going there with my family that upsets me so much! I have family that travel from NY every year…such a shame it might be the last! Won’t be the same if it’s not at the park!” posted Kayla Hughes.
Fireworks launched from the Wilbur Little League fields have long been of favorite of the 14,000-plus that turn out annually for the Lititz Springs Park 4th of July celebration, which this year will celebrate its 200th anniversary.
Krystal Buchter, whose family has lived in Lititz since the early 1900’s, may choose to move from the town that she believes isn’t doing enough to protect family traditions. She’s opposed to moving the Fourth of July fireworks to another location.
“Taking one part away ruins the whole event. Moving it to another location would ruin the whole tradition,” she said in an interview with LititzDailyNews.com.
Buchter started an online petition to stop the development of the Wilbur property that has already garnered over 800 signatures online. Her daughters are making posters to protest the plan to put an end to the fireworks in the park.
“I can’t believe they’re going to mess up the town baseball fields (almost every kid in Lititz I believe has played on them at one point in their life) and now ruin the fireworks too. I say boycott those homes/apartments or whatever they are!” posted Michelle Doutrich.
According to Reedy’s announcement, though this may mean the last year for the fireworks in their current location, they will still remain a part of the annual event.
“Discussions are underway between the developer, the Park, the July 4th committee and Celebrations Fireworks to secure an alternative site for 2018 and beyond,” Reedy wrote.
Reedy declined an interview and refused to provide a copy of the joint statement issued in conjunction with the Lititz Springs Park Board president regarding the future of the fireworks. Reedy’s Facebook posts stated the joint statement would only be provided to the Lititz Record. The Record is owned by Steinman Communications who also owns LNP/Lancaster Online, a sponsor of the Lancaster Barnstormers.
Some Lititz residents suggested alternatives on social media to keep the fireworks in Lititz Springs Park, but Reedy shot down their suggestions in a second post:
“If the planned development is approved, the current launch site will become occupied space, and therefore, can no longer be utilized as a launch site. Moving the launch site (i.e. Moving a 560 foot safety circle) to the park grounds would not allow this safety zone to be met as well as allowing for a suitable viewing area for the 14,000 people who pay to come to the park to view and pay for the display,” Reedy posted. Ticket sales from the even provide funds for park maintenance and upkeep.
Some wondered if the fireworks could be launched from the Johnson & Johnson plant nearby.
“Moving the launch site closer to Johnson & Johnson is not an option due to their flammable alcohol tanks. Further, no other space in the proximity of the park allows for this safety zone to be met,” he posted.
The future of the historic event in this iconic small town is in the hands of local leaders. The contact information for local leaders is provided below to enable readers to become involved in the decisions that impact Lititz. Information listed below is found on the Lititz Borough website, LititzBorough.org. The address is 7 S. Broad St., Lititz, Pa 17543. PH: (717) 626-2044, FAX: (717) 626-1329.
Citizens may request copies of borough documents, correspondence, expenses, and other relevant information through the Right to Know Act. Instructions and forms are available on the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records website. Sue Barry is the Open Records Officer for the borough, and RTK requests can be emailed to her at email@example.com. She is not required to answer questions, but she is required to respond to RTK requests in a timely manner under Pennsylvania state law. Requests should be specific and time limited in nature.
Lititz Borough Council: Karen Weibel, President; Members: Corey Van Brookhoven; Shane Weaver;J. Andrew Greiner; Christine Sensenich.
Lititz Borough Planning Commission: Steve Lee, Chairperson; John Piazza, Vice-Chair; Michael Smith, Kyle Stauffer, Jason Myer.
Lititz Borough Zoning Hearing Board: Doug Matthews, Chair; Members: Geoff Kurtz, Devin Learn, Harold Eberly, Maureen Westcott; Alternates: Jerry McDonald, Timothy York.
Lynn Rebuck is the editor of LititzDailyNews.com, an independent, national award-winning digital news site in Lititz that relies on financial support from readers to publish. Use the PayPal button below to keep us publishing or subscribe today. Email Lynn at editor@LititzDaily.com.