C-1 Zoning

How many townhouses and assisted living communities does Tredyffrin Township need (or want)? Can the T/E School District accommodate the increase in student population?

You may recall the abandoned Jimmy Duffy property on Lancaster Avenue in Berwyn and the subsequent construction of Daylesford Crossing, an assisted living facility on the site.  The approval for Daylesford Crossing was a long, drawn out redevelopment process in 2012 that required a text amendment to permit senior living facilities as a by-right use in C-1 (commercial) zoning.

Some argued at the time that the zoning change to permit senior living in C-1 was ‘spot-zoning’ to accommodate this specific project and others questioned what this would mean for future C-1 development in Tredyffrin Township. In 2015, the township expanded the C-1 District zoning to also include townhouses as a by-right use.

During the last few years, developers have flocked to the township with their assisted living and townhouse, apartment and condominium plans. Assisted living projects currently under construction or in the review process include Erickson Living at Atwater Crossing in Malvern (250 beds) and Brightview Senior Living on E. Conestoga in Devon (196 beds).

On the townhouse-apartment side in the township, there are many projects in the planning stages or under construction including:

  • “Parkview”, new townhouses in Chesterbrook
  • “Peyton’s Crossing” townhouses, Berkeley Road, Devon
  • “Village Square” townhouses, S. Valley Road, Paoli
  • “Grey’s Lane” townhouses, Lancaster Avenue, Berwyn
  • Station Square Redevelopment, 3 multi-story apartment buildings, Paoli
  • Chestnut Road Apartments, multi-family apartment building, Paoli
  • 644-704 Lancaster Avenue: redevelopment of Devon Shopping Center to include reconfiguration of retail with addition of apartments above.

Areas that were once farmland continue to be developed.  Top ranking school district, T/E brings an influx of people to the area which means an influx of students, and the growing problem of finding a place to put them.  With an award-winning school district and a premium placed on land, developers know that their profit margins are greater with the multi-family development projects.  But what is the price tag to the community and its residents for this economic development?

In addition to the housing projects above, there’s a new proposed land development plan in the works that is extremely troubling – townhouses on Howellville Road. The proposal is to wedge a cluster of 20 townhouses, in four buildings, between the village of Howellville and the shadow of the Refuge Pentecostal Church.

The village of Howellville in Tredyffrin is an historic township village, dating to the early 1700s. A pleasant symmetry and cottage appearance, five mid-eighteenth century buildings remain in the village and are located very close to Howellville Road, which was common at that time. Howellville Road contributes to the rural character of the community and any new development should be of such character and location as to complement the existing built environment.

The proposed land development plan on Howellville Road is not compatible with the character and appearance of the area.  Beyond the impact of traffic on Howellville Road, the proposed development plan creates serious safety concerns.  The steep narrow winding nature of Howellville Road makes entry and exit from the proposed dense townhouse project a dangerous situation.

Benson Company’s proposed townhouse project on Howellville Road will change the look and character of this community as well as place a greater burden on the narrow, winding road – and again more students for the school district!

John Benson of Benson Company has enthusiastically offered that his proposed Howellville Road townhouses will look like his Grey’s Lane townhouses on Lancaster Ave.  A couple of things – (1) Grey’s Lane is on Rt. 30, a commercial 4-lane road vs. Howellville Road, a rural country road and (2) he squeezed 12 townhouses in at Grey’s Lane in 3 buildings where as this proposal is for 4 buildings with 20 townhouses.

Each time one of these townhouse developers comes to the township for approval, we are told that there will be little impact on the traffic because the target audience is retirees. The developers design master bedrooms on the ground floor of the town home plans; claiming that buyers are “empty-nesters” and not families with children. Based on traffic in the area and the increasing student enrollment, I question that argument.

The Howellville Road townhouse plan is on the Planning Commission agenda for Thursday, February 16, 7 PM at the township building as is the Chestnut Road multi-family apartment building in Paoli.

Areas that were once farmland continue to be developed. Between the assisted living communities and the townhouses and apartments, should the objective in Tredyffrin Township be to approve any and all land development projects regardless of the impact?

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No Oscars but Locals Receive Awards for their ‘Antithesis of Outstanding Performances’

Last weekend, Los Angeles played host to the glitterati of the film world for Oscar night, the world’s greatest wrap party.  The evening was filled with the glamorous fashions, long-winded acceptance speeches and first-time host Seth MacFarlane, his controversial humor making for an interesting choice for Hollywood’s most prestigious awards show.

From the moment that the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announces its annual award nominations, the campaign season for a little golden man kicks into high gear, with movie studios spending large amounts of money in an attempt to influence Academy voters.  For moviegoers, armed with personal award predictions of who will take home Hollywood’s biggest prize, the red-carpet evening always entertains.

Ray Hoffman noted the glitz and glamour of Hollywood’s big night in Main Line Suburban Life today by presenting a few local “performance awards” of his own.  In lieu of a golden statuette, Hoffman presented ‘Razzy’ trophies to deserving locals for their “antithesis of outstanding performance”. 

Banter’s Razzy winners include –

  1. The Tredyffrin Township BOS for ‘Worst Performance by a Community Board’ for its long-standing stonewalling of the sidewalk issue at St. Davids Golf Club;
  2. The T/E Board of School Directors for ‘Worst Case of Communicating with the Public’ in the matter of hiring of former Tredyffrin Police Chief Andy Chambers as special school safety consultant;
  3. Former Easttown Township Manager Mike Brown for ‘Worst Performance in a Short Subject’, his term of office lasted only 13 months;
  4. Easttown Township BOS for ‘Worst Use of a Worn Excuse for Termination of a Manager’ in the matter of Brown’s firing so that he could “pursue other opportunities”; and
  5. Regency Center for ‘Worst Application of Pedestrian Walkways in a Shopping Center Parking Lot’ at Gateway Shopping Center.

Looking back over the last 12 months, I think Hoffman may have missed some deserving Razzy winners.  Here are some personal additions:

  1. Former Tredyffrin Township Manager, Planning Commission and BOS for ‘Worst Zoning Amendment Change for a Specific Developer’ in the matter of a C-1 zoning amendment change so developer Ed Morris can build an assisted living facility on the old Jimmy Duffy’s catering site in Daylesford;
  2. T/E Board of School Directors for ‘Worst Board Participation in Teacher Contract Negotiations’ for not having a seat at the contract negotiation table;
  3. Tredyffrin Township Supervisor John DiBuonaventuro for ‘Worst Attack of a Private Citizen by an Elected Official using Township Resources’ for the matter of using official township letterhead and the township website for a personal tirade against a resident;
  4. Tredyffrin Township BOS for ‘Worst Communication Website Policy’ which permits individual township supervisors to use the public’s township website for personal reasons; and
  5. Tredyffrin Township BOS for ‘Worst Police Department Study Not Used’ in the matter of spending $49K for a boilerplate consulting study and then not following the consultant’s advice and hiring additional police officers.
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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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