Tredyffrin’s C-1 Zoning Ordinance Change … Still Looks Like Spot Zoning to Me!

Until 11 PM last night, Daylesford neighbors and members of our community reasoned, argued, cajoled and attempted to change the minds of Planning Commissioners in regards to the proposed change to C-1 zoning to allow the use of assisted living facilities. Unfortunately, the Planning Commissioners ignored the dissenting voices of the community and recommended the C-1 zoning change.

The Planning Commission meeting started with 8 Commissioners (Tom Cooper absent) but when the agenda moved to the C-1 zoning change, the PC Chair Bob Whalen recused himself, leaving the meeting without explanation.

Attorney Denise Yarnoff, representing Ed Morris, the developer for the proposed assisted living facility (ALF) at the Jimmy Duffy catering site, wrote the C-1 zoning amendment change and its subsequent re-written version.  Acting PC chair, Trip Lukens, asked that Yarnoff and Trisha Larkins, president of the Daylesford Neighborhood Association, provide opening remarks.  Lukens requested Yarnoff and Larkins to confine their remarks to the C-1 zoning change only versus the specific proposed project – the assisted living facility at the Jimmy Duffy catering site.

Although asked repeatedly to speak up, Ms. Yarnoff words were often barely audible to the audience.  Standing directly adjacent to the dais, apparently it was more important for the Planning Commissioners to hear Ms. Yarnoff than the audience members.  Whether by design or not, I probably only heard about one-third of Yarnoff’s remarks. However, as any good attorney, throughout the evening, Yarnoff provided an explanation or response to any question or concern posed by the public, Planning Commissioners or township staff. It was unclear to me (and remains so) why Yarnoff was deemed the ‘expert’ on all things related to assisted living facilities, the township’s comprehensive plan, process and the like.

In contrast to Yarnoff’s, Ms. Larkins had prepared a PowerPoint presentation to explain the timeline for the zoning change, other municipality ALF comparisons and a background (explanation) as to why the DNA opposed the proposed C-1 zoning change.  Thorough and professionally delivered, Larkins repeatedly made the case that the DNA did not oppose ALFs in the township; it opposed a zoning change to permit assisted living usage in C-1.

After Yarnoff and Larkins presented their opening remarks, the meeting started a downhill spiral and to many in the audience, quickly became out of control.  Although Lukens had asked that the C-1 zoning change be the focus of the discussion, every couple of minutes the comments and suggestions returned to the Jimmy Duffy site and whether the changes would work for that project.

Resident after resident questioned the PC as to why the ‘rush’ to make this decision; why not wait for the results from the $100K consultant hired to review commercial zoning in the township. Like so many, I was frustrated that no matter what the issue, the Planning Commissioners deferred to Denise Yarnoff; wanting to make sure that their changes would fit the proposed ALF project.  In desperation, I told the PC members that it is no wonder that we believed this C-1 change to be ‘spot zoning’ – every time the public brings up a point, you defer to Yarnoff and the plan.  Lukens stated that he wanted the C-1 ordinance change to be about all C-1 properties but there was no discussion to support his opinion.  Is development so important in this township, that we cast aside reasonable discussion, review of other municipal ordinances, ignore the township’s comprehensive plan and instead do whatever a developer wants, so the project ‘works’?

After hours of debate, the Planning Commissioners drafted changes for the C-1 zoning ordinance.  The proposed C-1 zoning ordinance change now includes the following points:

  1. Density. Minimum Lot Area of not less than 650 square feet per unit.
  2. At least 10 percent of the lot area shall be provided as passive recreational space for the residents of the ALF. Such space shall include outdoor seating areas, interior courtyards, pedestrian walkways and/or similar facilities.
  3. The maximum number of beds per Assisted Living Facility building shall not exceed 100.

Prior to voting, the public continued to weigh in with their displeasure.  There was not one person in the audience who favored pushing this ordinance change through including attorney Dan McLaughlin, vice chair of the Zoning Hearing Board.   McLaughlin lives in the Daylesford neighborhood and offered very impassioned, effective remarks as to why the Planning Commissioners needed to hold off taking a vote until all questions were answered.  I did not think it possible that the Commissioners could ignore McLaughlin; but they did. Trip Lukens called for a vote on the C-1 zoning ordinance change stating he would abstain due to the 10% open space requirement.  Without pause, the remaining six PC members voted to recommend the C-1 zoning change to the Board of Supervisors.

No one will convince me that the PC vote to change C-1 zoning ordinance change was not based on one developer and one development project.  Every decision on what to include in the ordinance change balanced against the backdrop of whether it would fit the proposed assisted living facility at the Jimmy Duffy site.

With so many, many unanswered questions surrounding this project, including the use of the R-1 parcel, grandfathered usage, invalid sketch plan, etc., how could the Planning Commissioners refuse to do their homework and instead, push it on to the Board of Supervisors.  I thought it was the responsibility of the Planning Commissioner to thoroughly understand and vet the situation before recommending it to the supervisors.  Guess not.  Rather than relying on the expertise of the Planning Commissioners, it will now be up to the supervisors to find the answers.

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7 Comments

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  1. So sorry to be out of town and miss this meeting. Doesn’t sound like they answered the state definitions of assisted living, and I wonder why anyone can simply recuse themselves without stating why. Legal reasons for recusal are typically conflict of interest, which should be disclosed before recusal.

    Contrary to this being spot zoning, I think we know that this parcel is not going to work because of other issues which would require variances and maybe even rezoning on the R-1 parcel. I am far more concerned that this parcel is the canary in the mine…and truly wonder what parcel is the true intent of this effort…a site not currently on any radar that is likely to see develment. That or someone in the “system” has a stake in this. I guess now we have to wait and see….because so far, with passive recusals and unanimous votes , obviously no one is talking…because if they had voted last month (instead of deferring to this month–why was that again?) it would have only had Tory and Libby’s vote…so what changed????

    [Reply]

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    TR,
    This was a ‘circus’ — I have been at many PC meetings and I have never seen anything like it. It was like they were talking out of 2 sides of their mouth — on one side they would have us believe that it was about all C-1 properties not just the Duffy site but conversely there was overt concern to make sure that what ever changes they made, it had to work for this development project. The PC refused to allow anyone to talk about the R-1, continuously saying that it was only about changing the C-1 zoning. It simply did not matter what anyone said — they were throwing numbers out there about density without any homework on the subject — but certain to make sure that the density would still work for Duffy’s. The back and forth between Denise Yarnoff and the PC was astonishing — clearly this was a done deal before the meeting ever started. Kristen Mayock attended as the BOS liaison but as in the audience were supervisors EJ Richter and Phil Donahue.

    About 15 of us (DNA and community members) met on Monday night with supervisors Michelle Kichline and Mike Heaberg and Planning Commissioners Trip Lukens and David Biddison. At the end of the meeting, Michelle made it crystal clear that she did not want an ordinance coming to the BOS with outstanding unanswered questions, legal or otherwise. Several people reminded the PC of Michelle’s comment last night — but to no avail. They had their mind made up and this project was moving forward. There was not one person who spoke in favor of what they were doing last night. They refused to look at other municipalities, saying that these other municipalities zoning restrictions were antiquated???? Someone pointed out that the average bed density in the US is 53 beds — didn’t even cause the PC to pause!

    None of what happened last night made any sense, especially from a process standpoint! I just hope that the public can expect that the BOS will take this matter more seriously and be prepared to answer questions from the public. There is a public hearing on Monday, September 17 when the C-1 zoning change will be in front of the BOS — hope that you can plan to attend.

    [Reply]

    Township reader Reply:

    Thanks for the update Pattye. This kind of stuff is what creates a total lack of trust in public boards. Clearly there is an elephant in the room…with some kind of payoff somewhere. And I hate to say that, because I know these are volunteer jobs without compensation. But the lack of candor on the part of those folks appointed to the board as OUR representatives is disappointing. Why can’t they speak up about the underlying issues and talk to those who have investments in their own property?

    I have been on a public board, and I know it’s hard, but these jobs can be done to serve a greater good without arrogance presuming they know better what is good for all of us…without sharing their rationale. Give us credit for being able to go along with sound judgment.

    This does take me back to the whole St. Davids issue but on the complete other side. The Planning Commission are not responsible to the public as they are not elected. As I felt then, I feel more strongly now that like it or not, the BOS should make the final determination. It may be political, but at least they are accountable. The PC has the chair recuse himself without disclosing why? Doesn’t pass the smell test, and I respect Mr. Whalen.

    [Reply]

    From the West Reply:

    TR,

    During the St Davids stuff I made the same comments about our PC having no accountability to the public. In this case, the BOS gets to weigh in but in far too many the PC is the final word. Tredyffrin also seems to be the only municipality in PA where the PC is an independent body. I know a lot of people will speak against it, but the PC needs to go back to pushing recommendations to the BOS so there is acountability. This is how it actually used to work here. As for Mr. Whalen, I wish he would recuse himself entirely.

  2. Pattye:

    Thanks for your thoughtful article. The DNA could not agree with you more that the PC “retro-fitted” the language in the ordinance amendment to meet the requirements needed by the Applicant for the Duffy parcel. As you pointed out, several lawyers at the meeting said this was clearly spot zoning. Nobody on the PC even blinked. However, to anyone in the audience, it was crystal clear that a decision to move forward was decided before the DNA even uttered a word.

    It’s appalling that members of the PC publically admitted they had no solid foundation or basis for some of these restrictions. The 650 square feet per unit requirement? A guesstimate. The 10% “open recreational space” requirements? The comps were found where exactly? Oh right, there were no comps – they don’t need to compare anything. The 100 bed maximum? Sure, sounds good (if that works for Ms. Yarnoff/Mr. Morris).

    We repeatedly asked how they could vote for an ordinance amendment with an invalid sketch plan? Matt Baumann has NOT made a determination yet if the Applicant is grandfathered into the R-1 for the parking area. So WHY would they vote to move forward with a project when it may not even get the green light to be built on Duffy’s?

    Oh right, because someone/somewhere/somehow will determine it’s grandfathered. I’ve tried to show restraint in “defaming” anyone. However, Independent Citizen (above) said it well…..”quid pro quo behind the scenes”.

    How can we NOT feel that way given what we saw Thursday night?

    We certainly hope that the BOS can make sense of this mess. The PC clearly didn’t do what was asked of them by Ms. Kichline. She wanted legal questions answered. They weren’t. She wanted facts and restrictions built on a solid foundation. No such luck.

    If you’re a developer in Tredyffrin…..it’s “open season”. Draft your own ordinance amendment, hire a lawyer that can steam roll your vision, and leave devastated neighbors in your rearview mirror.

    .

    [Reply]

  3. “If you’re a developer in Tredyffrin…..it’s “open season”. Draft your own ordinance amendment, hire a lawyer that can steam roll your vision, and leave devastated neighbors in your rearview mirror.”

    Couldn’t have said it better myself! If this is the township’s idea of ‘economic development’, I sure as heck need to be moving out from under this municipal umbrella! Unbelievable! Yep, come to Tredyffrin Twp — whatever the developer wants, the PC will deliver it up on a silver platter, including changing the ordinances. And to insure the expected outcome, we will invite the developer’s attorney to write the ordinance. Only in Tredyffrin.

    .

    [Reply]

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