Valley Forge Middle School … Do Fences Make Good Neighbors?

The struggle between the Green Hills residents in Chesterbrook and the TE School District regarding the proposed chain link fencing project continues. As the last Community Matters post and many of the associated comments would suggest, residents are asking for an open, respectful dialogue and are not confident that the school board is listening.

Some people have asked about the agreement between Chesterbrook Civic Association and TESD. Click Here to read a portion of the 2002 Agreement TESD-CCA as presented in September 2002 by Stephen Aichele (with Saul Ewing and legal counsel to TESD at that time). This agreement from 13 years ago precludes the fence construction and provides for landscaping buffer. Also included in the agreement is the community use of the fields and nature trails – the fencing will cut off accessibility.

There appears to be some confusion regarding the ‘fence permit’ between the District and Tredyffrin Township. It was announced at last week’s Facility Committee by its chair Pete Motel, that the District had received the fence permit. However, when residents have inquired at the township, they were told that the township has not issued a permit and stranger yet, the residents were told that no permit application from TESD has been received. As an aside, there appears to be some question whether the District even needs a permit for the proposed fencing. Which is it? Does the District need a permit or can they just put the fencing up?

There is some encouraging news – at the school board meeting it was stated that only the 5 ‘abutter’ homeowners were permitted to attend the upcoming March 25 meeting with the District but now an additional three Green Hills homeowners have received invitations.

I continue to receive emails and phone calls from Green Hills residents, including Joel Greenberg. Dr. Greenberg attended the Facility Committee meeting and wanted the following included on Community Matters:

I live on Brandywine Lane in Chesterbrook, and although my property does not directly abut the school property, I do see that their plans will be detrimental to the community of Green Hills. And, as outlined, will NOT provide additional safety for the school children. Yesterday I posted on the Nextdoor site a few of my observations from attending several recent meetings: School Board, TESD Facilities Committee meetings, TESD Budget meeting, Supervisors meeting, and Township meeting.

It appears that the Township feels that the problem is not theirs and that we should voice our objections with the TESD. The TESD appears to just want to erect the fence as they have already planned. Get it up quickly, realizing that once it is up, it will very, very difficult to get it moved (which would involve significant sums of money). Following is the text that I submitted to the Nextdoor site:

I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments expressed by Peter Stanton and others on the Nextdoor site. The facilities committee of the School Board of TE has shown absolutely no interest in listening to the opinions of the concerned residents.

They autocratically have made decisions to serve their own interests and specifically are trying to enact a plan for fencing the Valley Forge Middle School that is ill conceived with regard to safety, and is in violation of an agreement that they made in 2002 with regard to the land behind the Valley Forge Middle School that borders Green Hills.

The school board has obtained a permit and has a signed contract to erect a chain-link fence within several feet of houses bordering the school property. This was all done without consulting the affected neighbors. They consented to a meeting with ‘some’ of the neighbors of Chesterbrook only after many vocal complaints. Additionally, they unilaterally picked a date and time without consulting any of the neighbors and specifically said that only a few select neighbors could attend this meeting – those whose homes bordered the school property.

When asked if invited participants could send a representative if they were out of town and could not attend, the chairman of the Facilities Committee stated that he would absolutely not allow this because one of the representatives might be an attorney and he didn’t want any attorneys present. Considering that many people appoint a representative to attend closing on a house if they are unable to be present, it seems entirely out of place for this to be disallowed for a meeting with members of the School Board on issues that affect the tax-paying residents.

Joel Greenberg

One of the abutter homeowners, Pete Stanton took the following photos from his Green Hills neighborhood and overlaid the approximate proposed fencing onto the photos.  Looking at the photos certainly gives you a sense of the invasive fencing into the Green Hills community.

Chesterbrook fence 1 Miller-Stanton fence

The left side of the photo is Green Hills abutter properties and the right side is the school district’s property at Valley Forge Middle School. The proposed fencing is indicated on the photo.

View of proposed fencing from entrance to Green Hills train at Salomon.  Valley Forge Middle School is so far from this proposed fencing, it is not visible.

View of proposed fencing from entrance to Green Hills path at Salomon. Valley Forge Middle School is so far from this proposed fencing, it is not visible.

This is a photo of an abutter's home on Hancock in Green Hills indicating how close the proposed fencing is to the house!

This is a photo of an abutter’s home on Hancock in Green Hills indicating how close the proposed fencing is to the house!

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17 Comments

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  1. The link it is not an agreement. Rather, it is a transcript from a public hearing. Where is the actual signed agreement amongst the parties? The transcript from the public hearing is not binding.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    I was provided with pgs 11 – 14 of the signed agreement. The agreement was read into testimony at the public hearing.

    [Reply]

    Pete Stanton Reply:

    Are you an Attorney Mr/Ms Resident? Full disclosure, I am not myself..But the passage “by which we are legally bound”, in my opinion at least, gives the sworn statement the power of an enforceable agreement. Attorneys representing both Chesterbrook Civic Association and Green Hill Landowners, both of whom specialize in Land Use matters, are on the case.

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  2. Clarification:

    It was stated at the Facilities Committee meeting by the school board that TESD had a permit for the fencing at VFMS. This is incorrect information. NO permit application was received by Tredyffrin Township for the fencing because NO permit is required for fencing. Fencing that is 4 ft. or less does not require a township permit. There are other issues with the VFMS fencing project but whether or not they have a permit is not one of them.

    [Reply]

  3. There is no signed agreement between specific residents and the school district. Rather, there is an ZHB special exception grant. What is the text of that grant? How much of the testimony made it into the actual order? By right, there can be 4 ft fences for the front and rear yards and 6 ft fences for the side yards.

    ZHB orders whether they be variances or special exceptions can be subject to many considerations that can change over time. A major one is public policy concerns.

    You only have a portion of the context and from that, nobody can draw conclusions one way or the other. Generally speaking however, if the district wants the fences, it will get them.

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  4. In case no one thinks the School isnt serious about putting a fence up around VFMS, I was surprised to see on Thursday afternoon, after returning from being out all afternoon, that heavy machine graders had taken out about 2/3rds of the berm buffer from behind my house. Background–this very large landscaping berm was placed there in 2002 as part of the Agreement between the Chesterbrook Civic Association and the TE School District. This agreement is referenced in this post and in others on Community Matters.. the berm abuts my property, leaving an 8 foot alleyway of grass that the School District had maintained. There is now a 25 foot flat area …no doubt to make room for their Construction vehicles in June…I can see no other reason why they would do this… Was I informed, if only a matter of courtesy? Oops, guess not.

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  5. I can address your question to Resident. What matters is what is in the order. It’s interesting that nobody has posted it. It’s clear the district feels it is on solid legal footing. If they’ve started the work and you’re affected, you need to go to court to get an injunction. That should already in action if your lawyers are competent.

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  6. It seems to me that the Tredyffrin Zoning Ordinance 208-102 B (2) referenced in 208-13 H is designed to prevent precisely the institutional abuse that is going on here. Residents should expect the Township and its Supervisors to enforce their ordinances. Given the grading work reported above, possibly the Township should request an immediate injunction.

    [Reply]

  7. 208-102 B(2)would appear to close the book on it. The problem is, you can’t read that subsection without reading the first part of the section. The operative words are “in any case where a buffer area is required”. The question then turns to what is the definition of Buffer under the ordinance. It is:

    Land adjacent to the boundary of a property or district and on which is placed year-round shrubbery, hedges, evergreen trees or other suitable plantings of sufficient height and density to constitute a visual shield and give protection from noise, lights or other nuisances to an abutting property or district.

    In other words, a buffer is designed to protect against noise, lights or other nuisances. None of those apply here. Also, the ZHB can rule that a buffer area is not required here. Then, you have the overall issue of safety in the schools. There is a major public policy issue there. When you balance the interests there, there is no argument. Sure, some may say there is no enhanced safety. The statistics are clear that a fence makes the environment safer. Does it make the environment absolutely safe? No, but nothing is 100%.

    You all might as well get right with it. The fences are going up. Abutting properties can try to stop it. Ultimately, they will not prevail. Their lawyer would have already filed for an injunction by now. They’ll be throwing $ away.

    As for the township filing a motion for an injunction? Why would the township do that? I don’t see the township having an objection to the fences.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    The property is located in the RC (Rural Conservation Zoning District which carries its on set of restrictions and specifications. As you say, we are only reading a section of the agreement.

    [Reply]

    Shining Light Reply:

    MuniLawyer,

    “The statistics are clear that a fence makes the environment safer.”

    Could you please provide a link that supports this claim.

    In my research, I have found that instead of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on fencing, it would be better to fund programs that teach conflict resolution, anti-bullying, anger management, and emotional intelligence

    If an attacker is intent upon harming others, fencing presents a relatively ineffective safe guard. . Instead, experts believe we need to address the root causes of the problem: bullying, a lack of a respectful environment, and despair and depression in students.

    Thanks

    [Reply]

    Shining Light Reply:

    http://www.unionvilletimes.com/?p=25960

    KCSD’s Bancroft School hosts national ‘Responsive Classroom’ conference
    June 25, 2015

    This week more than 120 educators gathered at Kennett Consolidated School District’s (KCSD) Bancroft Elementary School to receive training on the Responsive Classroom (RC) approach.

    When asked about what RC means McComsey says, “The RC philosophy is based on the research that shows us that children learn when they feel comfortable and accepted in their school environment. It also focuses on the social and emotional child so that the academics can happen for all children to learn. An environment of respect is established where children feel safe to take academic risks and challenges since they know they will be supported even if they make mistakes. It also supports the idea that good kids make wrong choices from time to time and we can help them recognize the intrinsic motivations for making the right choices.”

    ——————————————————–

    As a follow up to my comment above, I believe this program provides an excellent alternative solution to hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on fencing, much more effective than a $4.5M maintenance building, and a better way to spend tax payer money than $7.2M to $10M on 2 renovated condo’s for Admin. offices on W. Valley Rd., and a renovated Building for IT equiptment,

    Go to the Unionvilletimes link provided above and read about the information brought to this area by the Principal of the Bancroft Elementary School in the Kennett Consolidated School District.

    This is what tax payer money should be spent on. Student programs. Not million dollar buildings that have nothing to do with student achievement or personal growth.

    [Reply]

    Ray Clarke Reply:

    Surely the “noise …. and other nuisances” from the playing fields is the reason for the existing buffer?

    [Reply]

    Pete Stanton Reply:

    Muni Lawyer, you are missing the argument.. as I said in earlier posts it is the placement of the fencing that is at the core of the issue, not the fact of fencing going up. Like Shining Light, we are all waiting for definitive proof that fencing as a security method is more effective than some of the proactive measures she cites, but in the meanwhile, fencing school properties seems to be the solution du jour to protecting students.
    For your background, originally the buffer was placed to guard against a nuisance..noise generated from athletic contests on the VFMS fields, built in 2002..so despite what you claim …”it is clear that none of these apply here”.. it is clear that the buffer was enacted there for logical reasons in the first place..
    The proposed placement of this VFMS fence serves no other purpose than boundary identification..with a 4 foot fence, the security factor is nil..Boundaries can be marked in a variety of ways that arent detrimental and disrespectful to the neighbors..That is what is being sought..if the fence is to be put up, place it in such a way that it serves a more effective purpose(sightline from the protected property) and recognizes that it (the School) is part of a larger Community, not an island unto itself.

    [Reply]

  8. We bought our home in Green Hills in April 2014 and are very disappointed to see plans for the fencing of Valley Forge Middle School. Although our home is nowhere near the fenced area, I think it will have a negative impact on the general aesthetics of the community. Also, the manner in which the district has dealt with the community is appalling!

    [Reply]

  9. I visited the Green Hills area and viewed where the proposed fencing is scheduled to go — the photos contained in this post and the previous post really do not do the situation justice.

    There is a row of mature trees that are higher than the homes, that were planted by the School District as a result of the 2002 agreement. These trees, shrubs, etc. were planted as a buffer to block the sounds and sights of the TESD playing fields from the abutting homes in Green Hills. The vegetation and the berms do their job as you can not see through the natural forest – it blocks the views of the homeowners from the fields and also provides privacy. The proposed fencing will not go on the TESD side of the buffer but rather would go between the 40-ft trees and the homes.

    For what its worth, my takeaway is that if the District wants to provide a visible boundary to the property the fencing should go on the District’s side of the buffering landscape so that it can be seen. I know that the homeowners would prefer no fencing but as a compromise, I think that fencing should be moved to the interior District side of the buffered area.

    As a suggestion, I think that all school board members should visit Green Hills in Chesterbrook before the upcoming meeting and look at the area where the proposed fencing is to go — if they do, I bet they will agree on the location of the fencing.

    [Reply]

    Green hills resident Reply:

    Nicely simply stated and completely agreeable. Thanks Pattye

    [Reply]

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