I think that we’re making progress on the sidewalk saga of St. Davids Golf Club. Last night’s Board of Supervisors meeting marked the first of multi-public hearings planned to review the township’s proposed sidewalk amendment change to the land development ordinance.
If you recall, sidewalk discussion in the township began 19 months ago (December 2009) over St. Davids Golf Club and their pre-existing land development agreement to build sidewalks. Although the Planning Commission had repeatedly rejected appeals by the country club not to build the sidewalks contained in their agreement with the township, some supervisors did not support the building of the sidewalks. At that time, there was much heated debate between supervisors and residents, including the threat of a lawsuit against the township. Less than favorable headlines marked this dark time in Tredyffrin history.
Because of the turmoil created by the St. Davids sidewalk issue, a special sidewalk subcommittee was formed which met monthly for over a year. The subcommittee gathered public input, held public meetings and conducted a resident survey. They reviewed the “Green Routes Network”, pedestrian and bicycle network and applicable sidewalks requirements.
I attended the sidewalks subcommittee meetings and the group unanimously approved to send their recommendations to the Board of Supervisors. Their recommendations (including the sidewalks at St. Davids) were presented to the Board of Supervisors – earlier this year, the supervisors voted unanimously to accept the recommendations of the sidewalk subcommittee.
The supervisors asked the Planning Commission to review the sidewalk subcommittee recommendations and create a new sidewalk amendment for the land development ordinance. After Planning Commission input, the proposed sidewalk amendment was sent back to the supervisors for discussion through a public hearing, which brings us to last night.
I should mention that supervisors Phil Donahue and Bob Lamina were absent for last night’s supervisors meeting and public hearing. As vice chair of the Board of Supervisors, Paul Olson presided over the meeting and the public hearing. Mimi Gleason presented a slide presentation on the proposed sidewalk amendment as an overview before turning it over the supervisors for questions and comments.
First to offer his comments, Mike Heaberg remarked that he was of the opinion that the ordinance change should only affect prospective land development agreements, not pre-existing land development agreements. John DiBuonaventuro agreed with Heaberg, suggesting that the amendment change should focus on future projects. Likewise, Michelle Kichline agreed with Heaberg and DiBuonaventuro. EJ Richter did not state an opinion on this issue but Olson repeatedly commented that sidewalks cost taxpayers money. Olson asked Steve Burgo how many additional miles of sidewalks could be built in the township, and followed that question with how much would it cost to build the sidewalks. Gleason quickly injected that the sidewalks would only be built as areas are developed and included in land development agreements. She explained that taxpayers do not pay for the sidewalks – sidewalks are part of subdivision and non-residential land development plans and developers are responsible for those costs.
It was as if Olson did not understand Gleason or refused to accept her information. The entire sidewalk amendment discussion continued to be laced with Olson’s talking about ‘sidewalks to nowhere’ and that there were better uses of taxpayer money, etc. It was then the public’s turn to speak.
Tory Snyder, who chaired the sidewalk subcommittee and is a member of the planning commission, very succinctly explained the Green Routes network and how the sidewalks, bicycle paths and trails fit into the overall master plan of the township. Although it was clear from Snyder that developers pay the cost of sidewalks, etc. in their land development agreements, Olson refused to accept the information and continued to remark about the state of the economy and that taxpayers could not afford to pay for sidewalks.
It was frustrating to listen to the discussion of supervisors and then members of the public of the pros and cons of sidewalks in the township – it was as if time had stood still and we were back in December of 2009, rehashing it all over again. The only difference between December 2009 and July 2011 is that no one mentioned the ‘elephant in the room’ – the sidewalks at St. Davids.
Heaberg, DiBuonaventuro and Kichline stated, that they were of the opinion that the proposed sidewalk amendment change should be for prospective development only, but did not specifically use the words ‘St. Davids’. Although there are currently eight open land development projects in the township (which include sidewalks in their agreement) clearly, St. Davids is the long-standing open sidewalk issue, stemming back years and what many believe is the impetus to amend the township’s sidewalk ordinance.
Unable to sit any longer, I needed clarification – specifically on the St. Davids sidewalk issue. I asked and received confirmation from DiBuonaventuro, Heaberg and Kichline that their opinion was that the sidewalks at St. Davids were separate and apart from the proposed sidewalk amendment. Kichline clarified further that the eight open land development projects (including St. Davids) would not be affected by the proposed amendment change. These supervisors reiterated that the proposed sidewalk amendment should be for prospective developments, not pre-existing agreements.
I then turned by question about St. Davids sidewalk to Olson and Richter. Olson repeated that these sidewalks at St. Davids were ‘sidewalks to nowhere’ and that people didn’t want them. He further suggested to me that would not it be better to take the money for the sidewalks at St. Davids and give it to the fire company. At this point, Kichline jumped in to tell Olson that his suggestion was ‘illegal’ – you cannot transfer money from one organization to another.
I prefaced my question to Richter by pointing out, that as a member of the sidewalk subcommittee, that she voted in favor of the subcommittee’s recommendations which included sidewalks at St. Davids. Her response was that she viewed that recommendation as a ‘starting point’. When I pressed her about the sidewalks at St. Davids, her response was that she was ‘neutral’. What does that mean? You believe either that St. Davids sidewalks should be considered in the proposed ordinance change or you do not. As I suggested to her, a ‘yes or no’ response was what I was looking for – but I received ‘neutral’.
So where do we stand on this topic? Summing up, the eight pre-existing land development agreements should be separate and apart as agreed by DiBuonaventuro, Heaberg and Kichline. No was from Olson and a ‘neutral’ from Richter. I asked the supervisors where we go with this and Kichline offered that she thought that Phil Donahue and Bob Lamina should weigh in at the August meeting.
The August BOS meeting will mark 20 months since this saga began and I think we are all ready for final resolution. I would like to see (1) a vote that the proposed sidewalk amendment is for prospective development only (the eight pre-existing land development agreements are separate from this amendment) and (2) a vote to enforce the construction of sidewalks contained in the pre-existing land development agreements.
It has been years since St. Davids Golf Club signed the land development agreement with the township and now the conditions of the contract need to be enforced. As a community, we need to close this chapter!
Kudos to Kichline, DiBuonaventuro and Heaberg . . . great progress last night and I am looking forward to final resolution in August.