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Harrisburg area Cumberland, Dauphin, and Perry Counties
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Old 02-20-2014, 09:18 AM
480 posts, read 1,778,996 times
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My family and I have lived in Maryland since 2007. We have 2 sons, 2.5 yrs old and the other almost 5. We may consider leaving the area in the next year or two. We're between Washington, DC and Baltimore right now in Columbia, MD. However, I'm an Ohio native, and my wife is from MA but has family in Montgomery County, PA (Audubon area). We're looking at a place to move to as we are trying to "escape" this overpriced, crowded hellhole. We're also considering closer to Philly FYI. However, we really like the area from Harrisburg to Lancaster, esp. Lancaster County in general. Employment opportunities for us could be in either of the three "big" cities in the area. My background is banking and finance (nothing high-rolling, just lending and banking in general), and my wife's is finance/government but she has the experience for either gov't or private sector.

Can anyone who has lived in both areas compare the two? Mostly weather/climate, general geography, and economics, living conditions? I'm just poking around for info on various areas to move to.

First, climate. One of the things I do like about where we are is climate. Is it that much different than Baltimore or DC? From here, it appears there is more snow in winter, but it's otherwise not all that different, and milder than most of the rest of PA except for Philly.

I'd expect that since real estate is cheaper, wages are a bit lower, which is fine, but how is the overall economy?

Schools are important too.

Ideally, we'd like to find an area that is somewhere within about equal distance of Harrisburg and Lancaster, more or less, where the schools are good to excellent, and it's possible to buy a home on something larger than a postage stamp (I'm a gardener and like my space). Any ideas in that regard? If I had to favor one, I'd err towards the Lancaster side, I feel that area is more "scenic" and a bit closer to some family and friends we know.
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Old 02-20-2014, 11:35 AM
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There does seem to be a mini-trend of refugees from the DC metro heading to the Harrisburg area, and more especially the York area (especially southern York County where folks do commute to Baltimore/Towson/Aberdeen). They seem to find that real estate is maybe a bit less relative to lower incomes compared to DC so it can be a better value proposition.

Lancaster is sometimes regarded as less transplant friendly, but Elizabethtown seems not to have quite the rap for chilly reception. E-town has no shopping beyond the absolute basics, but it's not far in the evening to head into Lancaster, or on a Saturday to go to Baltimore or King of Prussia. You might want to consider what you are used to shopping wise. Lancaster has the nation's oldest farmers market but no Wegmans (there is a Wegmans far west end of Harrisburg area). Nordstrom, IKEA, REI, Crate & Barrel are a trip closer to I-95. Lancaster has an Apple store but Harrisburg doesn't.

Currently Lancaster and Lititz are home to larger regional bank HQ's, but state government (and various of its contractors) deal in money too.

Climate wise I don't think there is much difference until you get more north and west of Harrisburg. Maybe slightly less hot and slightly more snow but overall not a huge difference.

I think one of the differences in "feel" between PA and MD is a result of an extremely localized form of government in PA vs. MD's counties. In PA school districts vary often on a sub-zip code level. Zoning is much more micro scale in PA - it focuses on the borough/township level not the county level. In SE PA you can turn the corner and seemingly go back a couple of centuries - not just in the Amish/Old Order Mennonite/other Plain Sect areas. Columbia, PA is a world away from Columbia, MD. So you don't have the same level of sameness driving down the collector streets in PA areas that you do in MD (especially Columbia...).

As a corollary, in PA it is more difficult to judge an area by driving down a major road. You could have a jewel of a rural village, or beautiful farmsteads, right behind a row of ugly commercial sprawl or behind a monster warehouse.
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Old 02-20-2014, 11:47 AM
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The shopping is a minor negative - I like to do most shopping online anyway, and aside from the fact we DO love Wegmans, we're not opposed to Giant (PA Giant) which I assume is in the area, or any other grocer.

For this mid-higher level retail stores, going to KoP is no big deal as my wife has relatives 10 mins away from there, so it's a trip we'd make often enough. Plus most stores I shop in end in .com.

How do the various school districts rate?
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Old 02-20-2014, 12:35 PM
Location: Marshall-Shadeland, Pittsburgh, PA
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My partner hails from semi-rural Lancaster County (Conestoga Township, which is just southwest of the city proper), and it is indeed a very nice area. I've been to visit there numerous times now, and I can envision living there myself someday.

I used to live in Reston, VA and was frequently on the MD side of DC, so I am familiar with Columbia to an extent. The winters can really be a "wash" sometimes in terms of snowfall. Most of the time Nor'easters will track just close enough to the coast so that the immediate I-95 corridor will get a wintry mix (with a lot of rain and some minor snow accumulations) while areas further north and west (along the I-81 corridor especially) can receive moderate to heavy snowfall. Over the past couple of winters it seems like many coastal systems have tracked a bit further offshore, which has meant the heavier snow bands have been establishing themselves nearer to the I-95 corridor while areas further north and west receive lighter snow. I'm sure you remember "Snowmageddon" and/or "Snowpocalypse" a few winters ago where the Feds were closed for a week, and I had well over three feet of snow at my apartment on the VA side of DC during that week. Harrisburg, Lancaster, and York weren't hit quite as hard from those systems. Temperatures probably tend to be roughly five degrees colder in South Central PA than along the I-95 corridor at most given times.

Politically you'll probably be in for the biggest culture shock. Much of Maryland around DC, The District itself, and Northern Virginia tend to be immensely socially liberal and lean left as well on fiscal issues while, from my experience, much of South Central PA leans right politically. The city propers of Lancaster, Harrisburg, and York are pretty liberal, but they comprise a relatively small perentage of the overall population base of their respective counties. Maryland has legalized same-sex marriage. Pennsylvania has not and likely will not for a very long time. Pennsylvania's governor has vowed to veto any measure that would legalize marijuana strictly for medicinal purposes. Many Pennsylvanians are pro-life. While a lot of Maryland seems to be racially interspersed there tends to be much more in the way of racial segregation in Pennsylvania where you can have poor majority-black neighborhoods in Harrisburg (i.e. Allison Hill) right next to upper-middle-class majority-white neighborhoods (i.e. Midtown). Nearly all of Lancaster County's Puerto Rican population resides in the city proper of Lancaster. That's the same for York County's Hispanic population mostly living in York city proper. All three cities are surrounded by horrid urban sprawl in terms of upper-middle-class residential subdivisions that are mostly white.

I would most definitely consider Elizabethtown if I was in your position. You'd be roughly 25 minutes from either Harrisburg or Lancaster, there's an Amtrak station there to facilitate easy day-trips to Philadelphia, there's a quaint Downtown area, the public schools are pretty good, and while there's not a plethora of shopping it has all of the basic day-to-day staples (Kmart, Weis Supermarket, Giant Supermarket, Dollar General, banks, dry cleaners, fast-food places, gas stations, etc.)
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Old 02-20-2014, 01:12 PM
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Thanks for the reply.

BTW just for the record, I'm a political minority in MD (I lean right) so I'd feel right at home in S. Central PA. Thanks for the info.
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Old 02-22-2014, 06:04 AM
Location: Crafton, PA
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If looking between Lancaster and Harrisburg, there are other nice towns closer to Lancaster (all with good schools). Mount Joy and Landisville are close to 283 (and closer to shopping, etc...) while Marietta and Maytown are quaint little towns further away from 283 but still within a reasonable commuting distance.
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Old 02-24-2014, 05:29 AM
Location: Midwest transplant
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Best school districts in Lancaster County are Manheim Township and Hempfield. Elizabethtown, I would consider a "quaint" community, but as an above poster mentioned, it doesn't have the major stores that you might prefer. It's also further from family friendly activities that you might enjoy while your children are young. Lancaster (and the surrounding communities) has museums, loads of farmer's markets, farms, festivals, family activities, amusement park activities etc. You are just a short drive from Harrisburg/Hershey for other events and venues. Lancaster's farm markets (especially Roots) are wonderful! The local supermarket chain (Stauffers, Weis and Giant) would met your needs, and there are several other smaller country markets sprinkled in/around the area.
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Old 03-01-2014, 08:30 PM
Location: South Central PA
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Hello --

I've lived in OH for four years ( Dayton) and my parents hail from Massachusetts ( Springfield and Boston) so I can relate in some ways.

If you want to be around Harrisburg/Lancaster and desire the countryside feel then I recommend the Hanover area. Hanover is situated on the Mason-Dixon line and is an ideal place for those commuting to York, Harrisburg, Gettysburg, Lancaster and even Baltimore.

The cost of living is rather low so it is affordable for many families to purchase decently sized homes with yards. You could end up in a new development, tucked in the woods, or situated on the rolling countryside.

The schools aren't nationally ranked but are decent for the area. Safety was never an issue and I always felt connected to my school. There is a lot of pride for schools here and sports are heavily followed. Many of the schools are either new or renovated with updated technology as well. I'm speaking for South West schools bw.

What is wonderful about Hanover is its proximity to many sites. Gettysburg is probably the most popular destination and offers a plethora of historical activities and museums for adults and kids. Lancaster is 40 minutes way, Philadelphia is exactly 2 hours, Harrisburg 45 minutes and Baltimore is an hour. Many people love the accessibility to major sites without having to be amongst the traffic and chaos.

Cons for Hanover: not diverse at all in terms of ethnic/racial groups. The availability of professional jobs is limited because our local economy was built upon industry and factory work. However, it has changed with the development of smaller business and growth in Utz and Snyders.

Hope this helps and sparks some attention!
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