Arcadia Land Company

Tredyffrin BOS Meeting: Proposed Zoning Changes, Fee Schedule Agreement w/TESD, Wayne Glen Conditional Use Application, etc. etc.

The Board of Supervisors have a full agenda for tomorrow’s meeting at 7 PM. Following the regular supervisors meeting, the public hearing continues for the Arcadia/Wayne Glen conditional use application.

On the supervisors meeting agenda are a couple of important zoning proposals are announced for discussion at the May 21 Planning Commission meeting.  These proposed Zoning Text Amendments are substantial; and may significantly change a couple of areas of the township. Erickson Living is proposing an amendment to Tredyffrin Township’s PIP (Planned Industrial Park) district language to permit large campus-style communities of independent living, assisted living and nursing care at Atwater Corporate Park in the western Great Valley section.  A preliminary discussion of this project took place at last week’s Planning Commission meeting with township planning commissioners and Erickson Living representatives and their attorneys.

The other proposed Zoning Text Amendment petition is by Benson Companies, LLC to create a Historic/Conservation Cluster Overlay district  – this proposed zoning change is to be discussed at the May 21 meeting.  I attended a community homeowner meeting with Benson (no relation to me!) and saw his concept development plans (one plan is by-right and the other a cluster housing plan) that the developer has in mind for a 7+ acre site in Strafford.  Neither of these plans is acceptable in their present state for the historic property wedged between Homestead and West Valley Roads.  Many of the township’s most prized historic properties are located on these two roads, adjacent to this proposed development project, including eight homes that have been featured on the Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust’s annual Historic House Tour.

Without question, I support preserving the township’s historic resources. However, any type of historic preservation zoning change must be thoughtful and carefully created … not designed to meet the ‘spot-zoning’ desires of a developer! More will be written on this topic and the proposed zoning change prior to May 21 Planning Commission.

Back to the agenda for the Supervisors Meeting – I am delighted to see the “Motion to approve staff to seek bids for repair/replacement of the front steps at the Township Municipal Complex”.  It’s about time!  The disrepair of the steps and walkway in front of the township building is deplorable and the condition has deteriorated for years.  Is it because the supervisors and township staff use the ‘back entrance’ that they don’t see what the public sees – It looks awful, not to mention the safety hazard!  I hope that there’s a timeline for repair along with this motion.

Another item on the agenda is the permit fee schedule between the township and TE School District. Given the planned school district construction projects (fencing, maintenance building, school additions, etc.) any agreement between the township and the school district should have significant discussion.  Ray Clarke is particularly interested in this agenda item and provided the following comments:

The current CM discussion about planning, zoning and permits for fencing in Chesterbrook and the Maintenance and Storage facility on Old Lancaster Road touches on an important matter that all Tredyffrin residents and taxpayers should be aware of before the Board of Supervisors meeting on Monday.

At its March 23rd meeting, the School Board approved a Letter of Understanding with Easttown Township for a custom permit fee schedule – “$104 plus reimbursement of all associated time and material costs” for both renovation and new construction, but at the same time “permit fees for new construction projects shall be negotiated and agreed upon by the Township Manager and Superintendent”.  So that’s confusing, but anyway, the intent seems to be to give the School District a discounted rate.  The standard Easttown permit fee structure is generally $104 plus 2% of construction costs.

So now the Tredyffrin BOS agenda for Monday April 20th has the following agenda item: “Motion to approve the permit fee settlement agreement between Tredyffrin Township and Tredyffrin/Easttown School District”   

If this “settlement agreement” has the same form as the Eastown agreement, there are a number of questions beyond the confusing language.

  1.  All the TESD facilities are in Tredyffrin except for two elementary schools.  So a give-away that is immaterial for Easttown is significant for Tredyffrin.  We have seen the huge drain on resident and township time imposed by the District facilities.
  2.  “Time and materials” is usually code for variable direct costs; any agreement that included that language would leave all the management, HR, accounting, engineering, healthcare, pensions, information systems, vehicle, debt, etc. costs completely unreimbursed.  Permit fees should be set to cover full costs over the complete range of business cycles.
  3.  These expenses would be borne by the taxpayers of Tredyffrin to the benefit of the taxpayers of Easttown.  Every $1,000 discount means a transfer of $250 from Tredyffrin taxpayers, given the relative sizes of the tax base.  Moreover, that discount is at least six times more material to Tredyffrin, with its less than $20 million budget, than it is to TESD with its $124 million budget.
  4.  One third of those Tredyffrin taxpayers are commercial enterprises.  Patch just reported that Tredyffrin has just been lauded for its “overall business friendly tax environment”.  Does the Township want to discourage commercial developers by making them pay inflated permit fees to cover School district discounts?
  5.  Since permit fees are likely paid from the TESD Capital Fund (repaid over the life of the project), this subsidy is not only from one township to another, it’s from currentresidents tofutureresidents of that township.

Of course, we won’t know until Monday what this agreement actually contains, but it seems to me to be important for anyone concerned with keeping Tredyffrin’s value for both residents and businesses should attend Monday’s meeting, find out what’s being “settled and why the Township would entertain giving the School District special treatment, and then voice their opinion before any BOS vote.

It’s worth noting here that another agenda item is:

“Motion to adopt Resolution 2015-11 to approve paying agent to call the 2020- 2023 maturities of the 2009 General Obligation Bonds”

Once more we see prudent financial management from the Township to the benefit of taxpayers, paying down debt from fund balance and only borrowing against actual needs, such a contrast to the School District.  Which makes any agreement as an enabler of the unconstrained district spending all the more inexplicable – so let’s hope I’m jumping to conclusions.

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Chesterbrook Shopping Center & Wayne Glen projects are on Tredyffrin’s Planning Commission meeting for Monday

The new owner of the Chesterbrook Village Shopping Center has not yet shared its plans for the half-vacant retail complex. (Caroline O'Halloran/Main Line Media News)There is an update with forward movement on the Chesterbrook Shopping Center redevelopment project! The developers of the shopping center, 500 Chesterbrook Boulevard LP, will appear in front of the Planning Commission on Monday, April 27, 7 PM to review the preliminary/final subdivision application for the site.  The developers plan is to redevelop the existing 13-acre site, which contains approximately 122,000 sq. ft. of commercial space, into a mixed used development.  Their plan contains approximately 31,000 sq. ft. of commercial space (utilizing a portion of the existing building) and 124 residential townhouses in the newly created Town Center District.

It has been nearly 4 years since Genuardi’s in the Chesterbrook Shopping Center closed.  With the departure of the 40,000 square foot grocery store, the Center saw a significant drop in foot traffic and began a downward spiral as the empty storefronts continued.

The redevelopment of the Chesterbrook Shopping Center is very overdue – this project is going to be a win-win for the neighboring residents, the corporate employees working in Chesterbrook and other township residents, who like me, drive through the area regularly.

Also in front of the Planning Commissioners on Monday is the Wayne Glen development project.  Unlike the widespread community support that developers have enjoyed with the Chesterbrook redevelopment plans, the Arcadia Land Company project ‘Wayne Glen’ at the northwest corner of the intersection of Swedesford and Old Eagle Roads, has seen its share of spirited debate.

Wayne Glen

The proposed Wayne Glen project is a mixed-use development with carriage homes and townhouses plus an office-building component.  The issue for the residents close to the Richter Tract is how the developer will manage the stormwater situation as much of this area, including Glenhardie, is prone to regular flooding.  The Wayne Glen project is located in the Trout Creek Overlay District and the Arcadia developers believe that their plan will utilize design techniques that will alleviate the erosion along the stream banks and flooding issues and improve the poor water quality.

On Monday, the Planning Commissioners will consider Arcadia’s conditional use application to construct 104 residential units in the R-1 Residential District and approximately 240,000 sq. ft. of non-residential building area in the Professional District.

The target audience for the residential construction in both the Wayne Glen and Chesterbrook projects is the age 55 and over market – the emptynesters and those people interested in downsizing from their large single family homes.  However, with a combined increase of approximately 230 new residences between the two projects, the possibility does exist for additional school age children for the T/E School District. Typically, there is representation at these Planning Commission meetings by the School Board.  However, the Planning Commission meeting on Monday conflicts with the regularly monthly meeting of the School Board.

As an aside, at the last Public Information Meeting this past week, Barb Jackson, an Easttown resident and T/E parent, asked about Dr. Waters contract and whether he would be retiring when his contract ended in June 2015.  After Waters confirmed that he would retire, a follow-up question was asked regarding the search committee and process to find a replacement.  Although not listed on the School Board meeting agenda for Monday, Board President Kevin Buraks told those of us at the meeting that the Board would give the specific details on the superintendent search at the upcoming school board meeting on Monday.

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Trout Creek Stormwater Overlay District Petition and Response from Developer Joe Duckworth

It is anticipated that tonight’s seventh public hearing for the proposed Trout Creek Stormwater Overlay District ordinance will likely result in a vote by the Board of Supervisors.  Based on the supervisor vote (6-1) to approve the C-1 zoning ordinance change to allow assisted living facilities, the vote on the Trout Creek overlay district will be interesting.  As I have previously written, economic development was touted as a primary consideration by supervisors for the C-1 zoning ordinance change.  This ‘economic’ decision was based on the proposed assisted living facility on the old Jimmy Duffy catering site, which has approximately 1-acre of C-1 commercial and 1-acre of R-1 residential property.

 Using the logic of promoting economic development, it would appear that the supervisor decision tonight on the Trout Creek Stormwater Overlay district ordinance should be easy.  The Richter tract is 36 acres located at Swedesford, Old Eagle School and Walker Roads in the Glenhardie/Wayne area of the township.   Currently, twenty-six acres of the property is zoned R-1 residential district and the remaining ten acres is zoned ‘professional’ district. There has been much public debate from the neighbors

 At the previous Trout Creek Stormwater Overlay District ordinance public hearing on July 16, there was discussion of a petition circulating the Glenhardie neighborhood, which opposed the zoning change.  The language used in petition questions can often determine its results.   However, can the results of the petition influence decision-making within the government? At the last public hearing, the petition organizers told the supervisors that would continue to collect signatures until the next public hearing.  Joe Duckworth, Arcadia Land Company, the possible developer for the Richter property, provided me with the Trout Creek ordinance petition (bold) and a copy of his responses.  Duckworth’s responses, in italics, appear under each of the petition statements.

  Trout Creek Overlay Ordinance (TCOO) Petition

We, the undersigned, representing our neighborhood, are opposed to the proposed Trout Creek Overlay Ordinance and the resulting rezoning of the Richter tract (36 acre property which is bordered by Old Eagle School Road, Walker Road and Swedesford Road) for the following reasons:

  • Current R-1 zoning has been in place since 1939. The proposed ordinance would allow the developer to build 100+ homes instead of the 24-25 it is zoned for. This extra development would increase the amount of storm water coming off of the property, contributing to an already serious situation. It would also allow housing out of character with our neighborhood (i.e. single family homes as opposed to a mixture of twin homes and townhomes, the latter of which would have a height of 45’).

1) For 95% of storm events (2-year/24 hour storm and below), all of the storm water generated by runoff from the development will be required by the proposed overlay ordinance to be held on the site. This will reduce the amount of water flowing downstream NOT increase downstream flow, since there are currently no storm water controls on the site in its existing condition.

2) Townhomes and carriage twin homes will provide new housing product to longtime residents of Tredyffrin as well as new residents who would like to live in Tredyffrin Township, but are unable to find a modern home that meets their needs. These low maintenance townhouse and carriage home communities are highly desired by the empty nesters and retirees across the region and will improve Tredyffrin’s ability to attract and retain residents to the Township.

3) Townhomes and Carriage homes provide an appropriate land use transition between the existing large scale commercial development along Swedesford Road and the existing single family homes of the Glenhardie neighborhood.

  • The proposed ordinance promises more storm water controls in exchange for increased housing density. The proposed increased controls are minimal, at best, and the downstream impact is unknown. Citizens groups have asked that the developer be held accountable for the measured performance of the storm water system, and these requests have been ignored.

1) Tredyffrin Township has spent years conducting several studies of the Trout Creek watershed. The 2010 Trout Creek Study, by the Township’s independent consultant, identified the Richter site as a great location to provide a regional storm water facility, but the costs for land acquisition and construction of such a facility were out of reach for the Township, as they are already spending significant funds to implement other proposed storm water improvement within the watershed. In order to have a significant impact on flooding in the watershed, many improvements must take place. The Trout Creek Overlay Ordinance will incentivize property owners who want to develop/redevelop certain properties in the watershed to build facilities on their sites that will improve the existing storm water problems within the watershed.

2) Proposed overlay ordinance will require of the Richter property: a) a reduction in volume of stormwater coming from the 36 acre site (100% of run-off for 95% of storm events to be held on the site) AND a 20% reduction in the rate of flow of storm water passing under Walker Road.

3) In addition, the proposed improvements at the Richter site will eliminate flooding of Walker Road for all storm events up to and including the 100-year storm.

4) No plans will be approved by the Township until the developer has met the requirements of the proposed overlay ordinance.

5) No plans will be approved by the Township until a highly detailed maintenance and operations manual that includes on-going storm water monitoring is approved by the Township. This is a requirement of the proposed overlay ordinance.

  • The proposed ordinance will assure the destruction of historically sensitive land including a burial ground active since the 1690’s, which contains the graves of the founding families of Tredyffrin Township, 300 continental soldiers who served at Valley Forge, 1777-78, and over seventy African-Americans, buried in a community cemetery at a time when African-Americans were not permitted such burials.

1) The existing Valley Meeting cemetery and adjacent meditation garden are both located next to the Richter site and will not be impacted by any development on the Richter site.

2)  There are currently NO confirmed burial locations outside of the Valley Meeting cemetery or on the Richter site.

3) As part of the development process, the developer intends to further investigate the existence of burials outside of the Valley Meeting cemetery and IF burial locations should be confirmed on the Richter site, the developer will deal with them in an appropriate and respectful way.

  • The Ordinance is an attempt to address both zoning and storm water simultaneously. These issues need to be de-coupled and addressed separately.

1)  The proposed overlay ordinance is an innovative way for the Township to implement storm water improvements, which are otherwise infeasible for the Township to implement, in a watershed that is badly in need of these improvements.

2)  No plans will be approved if they do not meet the requirements of the proposed overlay ordinance and improving the storm water issues in the Trout Creek watershed, not making them worse. 

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Is 7 the Magic Number? Seven Public Hearings for Trout Creek Stormwater Overlay Ordinance

Following the regular Board of Supervisors meeting on Monday is the continuation of the public hearing to “consider and possibly enact an ordinance amending Chapter 208, Zoning, to Article XXX Trout Creek Stormwater Overlay (TCS) and creating permitted uses, area, bulk, and buffer requirements and special development regulations; amending Article II.  Definitions; amending Article XXVII, Conditional Uses.”

I have been approached by several Glenhardie area neighbors about the Richter property and Joe Duckworth’s proposed land development plan for the property.  Residents have asked me ‘why’ I don’t write about the plan, wanting me to take a similar approach as I did with the  C-1 zoning change for the Daylesford project at the Jimmy Duffy site. In my opinion, the Daylesford and Richter proposed land development projects (and their developers) could not be further apart for a litany of reasons. (For the record, if you type ‘Richter’ in the search box above, you can read four articles I have written on this topic.)

First off, I believe that the recent C-1 zoning change process was flawed; a change pushed through the system without any long range planning or consideration of the implications for other C-1 properties in the township.  Tredyffrin Township has a $100K contract with a consulting company to review commercial zoning and I was of the opinion that before racing to accommodate a developer and his zealous attorney, this township change should have slowed to await the consultant’s recommendations.

At the September 17 public hearing, residents from across the township voiced wide-ranging concerns over the C-1 change, ranging from traffic and safety issues to bed density and property size.  With the C-1 zoning change, the previous 10-acre requirement for assisted living facilities is now apparently possible on Duffy’s 1-acre commercial site. Although not a single resident spoke in favor of the C-1 zoning change, the supervisors voted 6-1 to approve the change, citing reasons like economic development and a desire that the developer not incur further costs by waiting for the consultant’s report.

The sweeping township-wide C-1 zoning change was predicated on ‘one’ development and ‘one’ developer … and a change approved during its one and only public hearing on September 17. Six of the seven supervisors voted in favor of the change against major opposition from township residents; believing I suppose, that they know ‘what’s best’.

OK, let’s compare the Jimmy Duffy site and the C-1 change to the Richter property and the proposed Trout Creek Stormwater Overlay (TCS) district. The first thing to note is the number of public hearings – one public hearing for the C-1 zoning versus seven public hearings for TCS.  That’s right, October 1, is the seventh public hearing this year in regards to this issue.  Let’s not forget that each public hearing costs the taxpayer additional money – advertising, court reporter, etc.  I do not recall any recent issue in the township where there was this many public hearings.

For the record, here’s the list of Trout Creek Stormwater overlay district public hearings:

  • January 23
  • February 27
  • March 19
  • May 14
  • June 18
  • July 16
  • October 1

We know that there is a cost to the taxpayers for public hearings, what about the cost to the developer?  Taking aside the number of planning commission and community meetings that the Daylesford and Richter developers attended, look at the public hearings – 1 public hearing versus 7 public hearings.  The Daylesford project attorney Denise Yarnoff lamented that her client could not afford to wait for the consultant report – the process was costing money and they needed a decision.  Voila, the supervisors complied.  Not wanting to risk this assisted living project going away, the developer and his attorney got what they wanted from the supervisors … the C-1 zoning change.

What about Joe Duckworth and Arcadia Land Company?  It doesn’t seem to me that Duckworth has been given the same advantage as Ed Morris.  Duckworth and his team to-date have attended six public hearings, some going on for hours, late into the night.  Duckworth has not complained about the time and money that his company has spent on the public hearings, planning commission meetings or citizen meetings.  One could argue that the Richter tract at 36 acres is so much larger than the Daylesford property at 2 acres (R1 – 1 acre, C1 – 1 acre approximately) that the Richter property deserves more attention.  Twenty-six acres of Richter is zoned R-1 residential and the remaining 10 acres is zoned ‘professional’ district.

I cannot imagine what the potential economic impact for the township will be from the thirty-six acre Richter tract. Duckworth’s plans for the Richter site include carriage houses and townhouses which, in addition to revenue, could provide a great option for Tredyffrin residents, particularly those wishing to downsize from their large single-family homes, to remain in the community.  The last numbers that I have indicated approximately 120 units between the carriage houses and townhouses in the proposed development; although I do not know the breakout between the design types.  Pricing for the carriage houses would probably be mid-$500K and the townhouses in the $400K range.

Certainly, the financial gain to the township with the development of the Richter property will far exceed the redevelopment of the Jimmy Duffy’s site as an assisted living facility.  Using the supervisor’s logic of economic development as rationale for the assisted living project, one could assume that the proposed land development plan for the Richter tract would be a slam-dunk.   There is an extra township wide benefit to the Richter development project – additional stormwater requirements contained in the Trout Creek Stormwater Overlay district.  This proposed overlay district would provide incentives for certain large sites in the Trout Creek watershed as a way to encourage developers to build substantial stormwater management facilities on those properties.

To be clear, the creation of the TCS district is not a quick fix to years of stormwater problems. The massive stormwater issues were not created overnight and will certainly not be solved quickly.  However, to do nothing is certainly not the answer. The Richter property was one of the 10 locations named in the 2010 Trout Creek Watershed Study and Stormwater Management Practice Analysis for stormwater best management practice in the township.  The study suggested a 6-8 acre stormwater basis and Duckworth has said that his Richter plan sets aside 8 acres for the basin.  The cost for the township to construct this large stormwater basin would be approximately $1 million plus the additional cost of land acquisition. Were the township to purchase the property and construct the stormwater basin, the costs would be several million dollars.  As part of the Richter land development project, Arcadia Land Company (rather than the taxpayers) would absorb those stormwater costs.

From my vantage point, it appears that unlike Ed Morris, the Daylesford developer, Joe Duckworth and Arcadia Land Company have bent over backwards to listen and accommodate residents.  It would seem that Duckworth is going more than the proverbial ‘extra mile’ to try to help with stormwater issues, even those not on the Richter property.  If some of the residents of Glenhardie prevail and stop this development plan from moving forward, when do you suppose there is going to be stormwater relief?  How long is going to take to find another developer willing to take on this large a project and try to satisfy the neighbors?  Personally, I think that Joe Duckworth has done a yeoman’s job in that respect … I understand that at the end of the day, a developer needs to make money on a project, but I have found Duckworth to be patient and respectful of the residents, and a willingness to accommodate if appropriate.

Compare the C-1 zoning change that permits an assisted living facility at the Jimmy Duffy’s site to the proposed TCS overlay district and the proposed townhouses on the Richter property.  Looking at economic gain to the township, ongoing costs to the developer, or stormwater benefit to residents, you would need to conclude that for the supervisors to have passed the C-1 zoning change for the Daylesford project, they would approve the proposed TCS overlay district.

To respond to those Glenhardie residents that suggested I write about the Richter property as I did for Daylesford project; it is not possible.  As I have repeatedly stated, I believe that the process was not followed for Daylesford, too much credence given to the developer and his attorney and the decision to approve the C-1 zoning change not a careful, thought-out decision. I found the actions of the supervisors particularly troubling because the voices of many township residents were ignored.

To the Glenhardie neighbors that oppose the Richter tract development, you have had so many more opportunities to have your voices heard than the Daylesford neighbors have.  In fact, the supervisors even appointed a citizen working group with subcommittees to review the proposed ordinance and provide input.  The Richter development has a developer that has consistently attended citizen meetings, listened and made changes to his plan. The Trout Creek Stormwater overlay district and the development of the Richter property can be a start to improving stormwater problems.  Unlike the limited economic benefit to the township of the Jimmy Duffy’s assisted living facility, the development of the Richter tract has great economic potential.

 

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Stormwater Issues – No Easy Solutions

Last night marked the Township’s third public hearing for the Trout Creek Watershed Overlay District ordinance in as many months. The Trout Creek Watershed Overlay District ordinance would permit additional redevelopment usages on large properties in the Trout Creek Watershed in exchange for much-needed stormwater facilities help.  In addition to the public hearings on this topic, there have been multiple other meetings both public and in small groups with township staff, supervisors, planning commissioners, Richter property developer and residents.

Township manager Mimi Gleason gave an overview slide presentation detailing the proposed ordinance, its history and the process.  The idea for the Trout Creek Watershed Overlay District Ordinance originated with the 2010 ‘Trout Creek Watershed Study and Stormwater Best Management Practice Analysis’.  The Richter property was one of the 10 locations named in the study for stormwater best management practice in the township and suggested a 6-8 acre stormwater basin for that location.

Although the Trout Creek Watershed Overlay District Ordinance would apply to all applicable properties within the Trout Creek Watershed area, it is the 36 acre parcel located at Swedesford and Old Eagle School Roads – the Richter property – that is the focus and concern for the Glenhardie neighbors.  It should be noted that the Richter tract is the largest undeveloped property in the Trout Creek Watershed but as the economy improves, the proposed zoning ordinance amendment change could be used elsewhere in the district as an incentive for developers.

Prior to public comment, the supervisor chair Michelle Kichline made a motion to remove retail with accessory gas and multi-family/apartments from the proposed Trout Creek Watershed Overlay District Ordinance. Although the Planning Commissioners included these usages in the proposed ordinance, the motion passed unanimously. As explained by Kichline, there would be no vote on the ordinance at last night’s meeting.  Due to the level of prior public input on the subject, Kichline asked that all resident remarks focus specifically on the ordinance itself.

As we know, Joe Duckworth of Arcadia Land Company is the possible developer for the Richter tract. Duckworth continues to reach out to the neighbors and offered his email and cell phone number ‘on the record’ during the public hearing.  As part of his proposed carriage houses/townhouse development project for this site, would be the inclusion of a 6-8 acre stormwater basin.

Several residents asked about the possibility for the township to acquire property through eminent domain. As explained by township solicitor Vince Donohue, although legal this process would be long and expensive, both in acquisition and in legal fees. In other words, what I heard – not a very practical solution.

To further study the Trout Creek Watershed Overlay District situation, Kichline announced a ‘working group’ with supervisor Phil Donohue and resident Tom Coleman.  The group would include members of the planning commission and local Glenhardie residents.  Their mission would be to meet for 6-8 weeks and offer recommendations to the Board of Supervisors. Generally, I am a proponent of citizen task forces and hope that this working group will be inclusive and representative of the views of all residents affected; the mission and direction of this group should be defined clearly.

The stormwater challenges in Tredyffrin Township have been 300 years in the making and certainly are not going to be solved quickly.  Whether you live in the Glenhardie area or the Great Valley area of the township, stormwater issues exist. Historically, stormwater systems were designed to collect and quickly move runoff as a way to prevent localized flooding or erosion.  Over time, it has become evident that the traditional curb-and-gutter approach was not sufficient.

I am of the opinion that the stormwater challenge facing Tredyffrin is going to require a shift in the fundamental philosophy of our local government and its residents.  One of the hallmarks of recent township supervisor elections has been the promise of no tax increases or no new taxes.  But given the dramatic infrastructure problems facing this community, how much longer can that viewpoint work?  What we are now seeing is that the monetary cost of managing stormwater is high but the potential cost of inaction is even higher.

Beyond understanding that stormwater is a problem, needs to be the acceptance that the management of stormwater is a very costly responsibility.  Perhaps now is the time for our elected officials to seriously consider a stormwater utility.  This option could provide a vehicle for consolidating or coordinating responsibilities and provide an effective alternative to financing the cost of stormwater management.

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Removal of Wawa and Apartment Building from Richter Development Plans

Still in the early stages of discussion, we do not know where the proposed Trout Creek Overlay District zoning ordinance change and the development of the Richter property will ultimately end.  My last post contained details from the long public hearing and as part the follow-up, the potential developer Joe Duckworth met with a small group of nine local Glenhardie community members.  To assure transparency and to allow maximum community input, other interested residents were invited to attend the meeting held at the township building.

Many of the resident comments at the public hearing focused specifically on the ongoing township stormwater issues. The Trout Creek Watershed Overlay District ordinance would permit additional redevelopment usages on large properties in the Trout Creek Watershed in exchange for much-needed stormwater facilities help.   As follow-up to the public hearing, there is a community meeting Thursday, March 8, 7 PM to discuss stormwater and flooding problems along Trout Creek – Township Engineer Steve Burgo will present the township’s 2010 study of the watershed and recommendations for improvement. The public hearing for the proposed zoning ordinance amendment continues at the next Board of Supervisors Meeting, Monday, March 19 at 7:30 PM.

Beyond stormwater issues, there was much discussion about the possibility of a Wawa or a large apartment complex that the proposed zoning ordinance would permit.  Some of the residents asked specifically that ‘retail with accessory gas’ and ‘apartment house’ usage be removed from the zoning ordinance amendment language of the Trout Creek Watershed Overlay District.

For those opposing a Wawa or apartment building on the Richter property, there is good news to report!  

The proposed developer for the project, Joe Duckworth, contacted me for an update. As I said in my last post on Community Matters, “I have found Duckworth to be very community-minded and responsive to all questions and concerns related to the development of the Richter tract” and this continues to be the case.  Duckworth explained, that based on the community input at the public hearing, he immediately reached out to the Board of Supervisors to suggest that the gas station and apartment building usage be removed from the proposed zoning ordinance amendment for the Trout Creek Watershed Overlay District. Those usages will be removed in the revised amendment and Duckworth presented this new information to the residents at the follow-up community meeting.  For the record, Duckworth says that a Wawa was not a consideration by Arcadia Land Company for the Richter property.

With Wawa and apartment building out of the proposed zoning ordinance change, the majority of the 30-35 Glenhardie residents who attended the community meeting, are OK with the Richter development plans for carriage houses and townhouses.  But what’s the saying about not being able to please all the people?  Duckworth explained there remain a couple of residents who are opposed to development project regardless of the removal of the Wawa and apartment building.

We discussed Duckworth’s plans for the Richter site; carriage houses and townhomes sound like they could provide a great option for Tredyffrin residents, particularly for those wishing to downsize for their large single-family homes but remain in the community.  The carriage house concept with the master bedroom on the first floor has become a popular feature sought among the retiring baby boom generation.  I have heard of several local residents who are already planning a move when the carriage homes are built.

According to Duckworth, the total number of carriage houses and townhomes in the proposed development will be around 120, although the breakout between the design types is not known at this time. Pricing for the carriage houses will probably be mid-$500K and townhouses in the $400K range.  Duckworth confirmed that the entrance to the project would be Old Eagle School Road not Walker Road.  With entrance to the proposed development off Old Eagle School, I voiced concern for the Valley Friends Meeting cemetery, which could be close to the new driveway.  Duckworth reassured me that he was very aware of the situation and appropriate buffering and landscaping would be included in the plan to protect the cemetery.

The Richter property was one of 10 locations named in the 2010 Trout Creek Watershed Study and Stormwater Management Practice Analysis for stormwater best management practice in the township.  The study suggested a 6-8 acre stormwater basin and Duckworth confirmed that his Richter plan sets aside 8 acres for the basin.  According to Duckworth, the cost for the township to construct this large stormwater basis would be approximately $1 million plus the additional cost of land acquisition.  Were the township to purchase the property and construct the stormwater basin, the costs would be several million dollars.  As part of the Richter land development project, Arcadia Land Company rather than the taxpayers absorb these stormwater costs.

Without a Wawa or an apartment building in the Trout Creek Watershed Overlay District zoning ordinance amendment, the continued public hearing on March 19 will probably be less contentious.  Although the Richter land development project is only in the early stages of the planning process,  it looks like a community-minded developer may be the key to its success.

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Understanding the Trout Creek Overlay Ordinance … More Complex than a Wawa or an Apartment Building

I attended Monday night’s marathon 3+ hour public hearing and Board of Supervisors meeting.  The main event of the night was the public hearing and resident comments in regards to a zoning ordinance amendment that would develop a Trout Creek Overlay district. (Here is a link to the meeting video).

There was much to take in from the meeting and I have struggled to ‘wrap my head around’ the details of the proposed zoning ordinance amendment, affects the development project and storm water improvements may have on the community, misinformation and a degree of confusion among some residents.  Part of the confusion about the project is in the labeling – although the township information refers to it as the ‘Trout Creek Overlay’ proposal, the problem is that unless you attend Planning Commission meetings, local residents may not have initially recognized it was the ‘Richter’ tract and its possible development was discussion.

The Richter tract is 36 acres located at Swedesford, Old Eagle School and Walker Roads in the Glenhardie/Wayne area of the township.   Currently, twenty-six acres of the property is zoned R-1 residential district and the remaining ten acres is zoned ‘professional’ district.  R-1 zoning permits single-family homes and with special exception house conversion to multi-family dwelling.  The Professional zoning district permits office or professional buildings.

The proposed zoning ordinance amendment to develop an overlay district in the Trout Creek Watershed is more than just about the development of the Richter tract; although the Richter tract is the largest undeveloped property in the Trout Creek Watershed.  As the economy improves, there may be opportunities for future redevelopment projects in the township.  Therefore, this proposed zoning ordinance amendment change could be used elsewhere in the Trout Creek Overlay district as an incentive for developers.

As an example, we recently learned that the US Postal Service will consolidate postal services and the Southeastern PO distribution center will close in May.  The Southeastern PO location could become a future redevelopment area that might benefit from the proposed zoning amendment.  Click here to see the Trout Creek Watershed map and what areas would be potentially affected by the proposed zoning ordinance.

The reasoning behind the creation of a Trout Creek Overlay district is to provide for public stormwater improvements on development projects in the Trout Creek Watershed district.  (Area as identified on the Trout Creek Watershed map).

Back to the Richter property — this appears to be the guiding force behind the proposed zoning ordinance amendment.  The way I see it, there are four major groups of players in this specific development project – the developer Joe Duckworth and Arcadia Land Company, the Glenhardie area residents, township Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors.

Anyone living in Tredyffrin, knows that there are major stormwater issues all around the township and those problems are long-standing.  In addition, the township has been working on solutions to the flooding problems in the Glenhardie area for years.  The challenge for the township is that a number of large properties are needed for stormwater management facilities that would hold back runoff during heavy rain, thereby reducing the volume of water downstream into Trout Creek. However, the real problem is how to come up with long-term solutions, particularly in an economy where money is not easily available.

If the township does not have the necessary resources for stormwater management, and if the residents are not interested in paying increased taxes … what is the solution for stormwater problems?  One idea is to offer incentives to developers in exchange for increased stormwater management components in their land development projects.  I believe it was that specific objective, which drove the Planning Commissioners to create the proposed Trout Creek Overlay zoning amendment.  To be clear, I do not think that the proposed zoning amendment was some kind of quixotic effort on the part of the Planning Commissioners to encourage a specific development project. But rather the Trout Creek Overlay zoning amendment was a time-consuming, thoroughly discussed plan to encourage development but to also aid in stormwater management.

As an aside to the Planning Commission process to develop the Trout Creek Overlay zoning amendment, is the Richter property developer – Joe Duckworth and Arcadia Land Company.  Attending various Planning Commission meetings, I have found Duckworth to be very community-minded and responsive to all questions and concerns related to the development of the Richter tract.  However, those discussions were about carriage homes and/or townhouses on the residential parcel of the Richter property.

In reviewing their website, Arcadia Land Company has developed some beautiful residential properties – places that would be very well suited for Tredyffrin Township and our residents. Arcadia Land describes their company as “Town Builders and Land Stewards”, and further states, “Arcadia’s approach to town building has been influenced by the New Urbanism and the conservation development movement.  New Urbanism is a movement that promotes compact, walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods as a positive alternative to low-density, automobile-oriented, single-use development. New Urbanism supports both the revitalization and expansion of existing centers as well as the creation of new neighborhoods.” 

Obviously, this wonderfully progressive planning language also needs to be tempered by local community and the resident’s needs (or desires).  My sense is that many of the local Richter property residents could accept (maybe even embrace) a beautiful carriage house/townhouse community.  What a great option for residents who want to downsize from large homes but continue to live in Tredyffrin!  Moreover, according to Duckworth, this project would include a costly and involved stormwater plan that would contain a 6-8 acre stormwater basin.  It should be noted that the stormwater issues in Tredyffrin are dramatic and it would be an overstatement to suggest that the Richter tract development would completely ‘fix’ the Trout Creek stormwater issues. But an improvement, nonetheless.

However, enter the proposed Trout Creek Overlay zoning amendment change, and the beautiful carriage house/townhouse community concept planned for the Richter tract takes a back seat to the possible commercial use of the ten acres currently zoned ‘professional’.  The proposed zoning change would extend the usage of this parcel to include retail stores with accessory gas (Wawa) and apartment buildings, among others.

Herein lies the problem  – many of us have a vision of a huge Wawa facility, like is found on Rt. 29 in Malvern.  However, the Wawa site was built in a field next to Route 202 versus a residential location. As was pointed out at Monday’s meeting, these multi-function gas stations are the real estate model for Wawa.  Rationalizing that perhaps Wawa would consider some small residential-friendly gas station instead of a commercial giant, I was willing to wait for the project design.  But when I heard there was discussion of possibly building a 250-unit apartment complex on the 10-acre site, there was no way that I could support that concept. For one reason, our school district simply cannot bear the number of additional students such a project could represent.  In a letter presented to the Board of Supervisors on Monday night from the T/E school district, they said just that – they could not afford to have the additional students in the district from a large apartment complex.

The stretch of Old Eagle School Road between Swedesford and Walker Rds is short but significant — home to Valley Friends Meeting and their cemetery. Lewis Walker, one of the earliest settlers in Tredyffrin, and one of the founding members of this Meeting, left to Friends in the Valley the 18th century property on which his family burial ground was located, now the burial grounds of Valley Meeting.  Several members of Valley Friends Meeting attended the public hearing and presented a poignant history of the building and the cemetery.  The Valley Friends Meeting presents another reason for us to pause as we consider appropriate development for that area.

Whether the proposed development for the 10-acre corner site is a Wawa or an apartment building, the concern from the Glenhardie neighbors goes beyond a NIMBY (not in my backyard) attitude.  Their concerns about additional traffic  in the area are real. Then there is the issue about stormwater management – is the neighborhood helped more from an 8-acre stormwater basin or hurt more from the development of the property?  Some local residents suggest that as the Swedesford Road corridor between Gateway and the new Wegmans has developed, so has the stormwater problems.

I would ask for some kind of middle ground on this project – understanding that the Richter tract is a premier building site and that the owners of the property have rights, should we not also show consideration for the Glenhardie neighbors, Valley Friends Meeting and what is best for the entire community, including the school district.

In closing, I want to address the Board of Supervisors and how I view their participation in this process.  I understand how upset many in the Glenhardie area are over this proposed zoning change for the Richter property. I live in the Great Valley but my husband and I have owned an investment condo in Glenhardie for almost twenty years, so I have more than a passing interest in this project. As a Glenhardie condo owner, I know first hand the Trout Creek stormwater issues and the ongoing attempts to resolve the water problems.

But upon reflection of Monday’s public hearing, I feel compelled to defend the supervisors. It was apparent by some of the resident’s comments, that there are those that think the supervisors have made some kind of ‘backroom deal’ with Duckworth with regards to the development of the Richter property. If you believe that has happened, I would suggest that you are incorrect.

It was the Planning Commissioners who wrote the proposed Trout Creek Overlay zoning ordinance and submitted it to the Board of Supervisors for review.  I am not suggesting that the supervisors did not talk to Duckworth – some probably have, as well as Mimi Gleason and Steve Burgo.  In fact, supervisor Mike Heaberg often attends Planning Commission meetings where Duckworth attended.  But folks, there is a difference between supervisors having individual discussions with a developer versus the suggestion that some kind of backroom deal has been made.  Chair Michelle Kichline’s response to some of the resident’s accusations was measured but absolute; no deal has been made between the Board of Supervisors and Duckworth.  And I believe her.

However, maybe Phil Donohue, the middle district supervisor could, have lessened some of the confusion of Monday night, with a better resident outreach program. At-large supervisors (Michelle Kichline, Kristen Mayock, EJ Richter, and Mike Heaberg) have a township wide responsibility versus the district supervisors (John DiBuonaventuro, Paul Olson and Phil Donohue) who are elected and represent residents in a specific area of the township.  Not that the district supervisors should not be involved in township wide issues; but they should have specific focus on the western, middle or eastern districts, which they represent.  Perhaps some of the circus-like atmosphere of Monday night could have been avoided (or at least lessened) with an ongoing dialogue between residents and the middle district supervisor Phil Donohue.  I look forward to better communication in the future.

Before any decisions or votes can be taken, there is obviously going to be much more public discussion about the Trout Creek Overlay zoning ordinance and the Richter tract and its development.  As suggested, there will be a community meeting on Thursday, March 8, 7 pm in the Tredyffrin Township Building to discuss stormwater and flooding problems along Trout Creek. Stephen Burgo, Township Engineer, will present results of a 2010 study of the watershed and recommendations for improvements.

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