Carla Zambelli

Trading in four 19th century houses in Paoli for a new multi-story apartment building … is this progress?

If a developer in Tredyffrin has his way, we are going to lose four historic houses in Paoli to make way for a multi-story apartment building!

Developer Lancaster Chestnut LLP presented a preliminary land development plan LD-03-2016 “Chestnut Road Apartments” at the Planning Commission.  The application seeks to consolidate four parcels into one parcel for the development of a multi-story, 17 unit apartment building with 1 and 2-bedroom units.

The site for the proposed apartment building is Chestnut Road, south of Lancaster Avenue and is located within Paoli’s TCD (Town Center) district.  Demolishing four 19th century homes to ‘make way’ for a new apartment building was not volunteered by the developer – but rather as response to a Planning Commissioner question regarding the age of the buildings.

I visited Chestnut Road to see where see the location of this proposed apartment building.  Assuming the land development plan moves forward, the four historic houses slated for demolition are 35, 37, 39 and 43 Chestnut Road.  Driving past these four houses on Chestnut Road, there are three additional houses which are restored and occupied.

Sadly, these are the four “Seven Sisters” houses on Chestnut Road slated for demolition to make way for a multi-story apartment building.

Dating to 1895, these three “sisters” houses are restored and occupied. With the Chestnut Road Apartment plan, these 19th century buildings will lose their four “sisters” and live in the shadows of a 21st century multi-story apartment building.

Close-up of Colonial Revival cottage, c.1895 house on Chestnut Road that will come down for the proposed new apartment building.

The four houses to be demolished are individually included in the 2003 Tredyffrin Township Historic Resource Survey book.  For the township’s survey, the houses were surveyed and photographed. The historic consultant described their architectural style as “gable-end Colonial Revival cottage” and dated the properties to 1895.

Through local history, the neighborhood of the seven 19th century homes on the east side of Chestnut Road was known as Paoli’s “Seven Sisters”.  Now one hundred and twenty-two years later and four of the ‘sisters’ are on the brink of demolition. Single family homes of the 19th century to be replaced by 21st century multi-family apartment building. Destruction of local history in the name of progress …?

Although the four 19th century homes are included in the township’s historic resource book, the identification is meaningless as Tredyffrin remains a municipality without a historic preservation ordinance of protection.  Without historic protection and the property’s inclusion in the Town Center zoning district, the proposed apartments are a permitted use. Chestnut Road Apartments will join the other new apartment plan in Paoli – Station Square on the corner of N. Valley and West Central.

The proposed Howellville Road townhouse plan returned to the Planning Commission. No Tredyffrin resident spoke in favor of the project and several in the audience voiced opposition. TE School District board member Michele Burger raised concern about the multiple new townhouse projects in Tredyffrin and Easttown and the resulting increase in student enrollment. Neighbors spoke about the existing traffic issues on Howellville Road and the negative impact of this proposed townhouse on the community. Others, including myself, spoke of the historic significance of the village (and the old winding country road) and the changes the project will mean to the character of the area.

The developer John Benson of Benson Company presented new plans that reduced the number of townhomes from 20 to 18 with a one-way horseshoe entrance and exit in addition to an interior alley. Township engineer Steve Burgo voiced storm water concerns (Crabby Creek runs through the property). These proposed townhouses should not be marketed as a downsizing option – we were told each unit is 3,000 sq. ft.!

Visibly annoyed by the many questions and comments, the developer did not feel he had adequate direction on his proposed plan.  If I had my way, the project would just disappear but that is unlikely as Mr. Benson made certain that we all know that his townhouse plan is a ‘by right’ use that he intends to pursue. However, there are required changes to his plan if it is to move forward.  He certainly left the meeting with a lot to think about update if his plan was to move to the next step.

Because our township zoning allows by-right density housing in many areas of the township, the developers will continue to bring their plans.  C-1 (commercial) zoning now includes a townhouses as a by-right use, so what is to keep developers from demolishing office buildings and building more townhouses? Townhouses could be an economic boom for developers to redevelop vacant and/or aging office buildings.

Beyond the destruction of local history in the name of progress, there are other concerns about multi-family development projects – rising student population in local schools, additional strain on our fire, EMS and police departments, increased traffic, etc.

Please do not misunderstand; I support economic redevelopment if thoughtful and well-planned.

The Fate of Tredyffrin Township’s Covered Wagon Inn spurs discussion by Radnor Commissioners

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If nothing else, the possible demolition of the Covered Wagon Inn is furthering discussion about local historic preservation and municipal protection (or lack thereof) of historic buildings.

The ‘Save the Covered Wagon Inn’ historic preservation issue has not aired publicly in Tredyffrin Township. However, it was good to see that Radnor Township Board of Commissioners used the precarious future of the old inn in Tredyffrin, as an impetus to discuss ways to strengthen their own protection of historic buildings at their meeting this week.

As reported by Linda Stein in Main Line Suburban Life, Radnor Board of Commissioners President Jim Higgins asked local historian Greg Prichard to update the community on the protection of historic buildings in Radnor. One of Prichard’s recommendations for the township was to update the inventory of historic properties — Radnor’s current survey list is over 25 years old.

Interestingly, Tredyffrin Township already accomplished Prichard’s recommended task with their own 2003 Historic Resource Survey, which researched and photographed over 400 historic properties in the township, including the Covered Wagon Inn.

I was on the Tredyffrin Township’s HARB at that time (Tredyffrin no longer has a Historical Architectural Review Board) and it was our intent, at that time, that the 2003 survey would become the basis for a historic preservation ordinance to protect the community’s historic properties. But sadly, without municipal and/or elected official’s support, the historic preservation protection initiative never moved forward in Tredyffrin.

Fast forward to 2016, and local residents who care about protecting the Covered Wagon Inn, find themselves at the mercy of the CVS/Summit developers.The good news is that the developer has shown a spirit of cooperation and a willingness to help save the Covered Wagon Inn.

In discussing the plight of the Covered Wagon Inn, Prichard told the Radnor Commissioners, “The next time an important place is threatened in Radnor, I feel we shouldn’t have to organize big protests and publicity campaigns, when in most other places as special as ours, it’s a matter of policy.”  Following-up on Prichard’s remarks, Solicitor John Rice offered that Radnor could update its zoning ordinance to offer more protection of its historic properties.

Thank you Radnor Board of Commissioners for caring about historic preservation and thank you for having an open dialogue of ways to increase ;protection of historic buildings. We know that all developers will not be as willing as Summit Realty to help save a historic building, especially if there is nothing to prevent their demolition.

Preservationist and retired architect Edward Davis Lewis of Gladwyne penned the following op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer this week … at a minimum, the fate of the Covered Wagon Inn has people talking.

ISSUE | HISTORIC PRESERVATION

Save the Old Covered Wagon Inn

Bravo for running “Preservationists try to save landmark inn” as a front-page story (Feb. 16). In a toxic, throwaway society, voices of conservation should rightly be front page.

Like so many old taverns, the Old Covered Wagon Inn in Strafford, Chester County, is a landmark, a milestone, a stopping place on the turnpike of our shared history. Inns served as meeting places for traders and travelers, post offices, polling places, and employment centers for immigrants. In the age before radio, TV, and the Internet, locals gathered in them to hear news and discuss the issues of the day. They are our national heritage.

If the developers, Summit Realty Advisors, would build next to, instead of in place of, this old inn, they would gain value and give identity to a CVS pharmacy, unlike those in so many anonymous crossroad malls. The tear-down, throwaway mindset needs to be replaced by recycle, reuse, and renew with creative planning.

|Edward Davis Lewis, retired architect and preservationist, Gladwyne

People continue to sign the online petition, ‘Save the Covered Wagon Inn’ — to date, over 4,100 have shown their support. Click here if you would like to add your name.

Support continues to grow on the ‘Save the Covered Wagon Inn’ Facebook page – click here to visit the FB page.

Covered Wagon Inn, 250 years of Philadelphia’s Main Line History Could Be Demolished: Update Part I

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Less than three weeks ago at the January 21, 2016 meeting of the Tredyffrin Township Planning Commission, Summit Realty Advisors (on behalf of their client CVS Pharmacy), proposed a land development plan for the corner of Old Eagle School Rd.and Lancaster Ave, in Strafford, Tredyffrin Township, Chester County. The redevelopment project includes a drug store with drive-thru which is apparently the ‘new and improved model’ for all CVS construction projects. In the plans currently proposed, it is that drive-thru appendage that requires the demolition of the old Covered Wagon Inn.

After the Planning Commission meeting and my first Community Matters post on the proposed land development plan that would demolish the Covered Wagon Inn, no one could have been more surprised than me with the outpouring of support. A ‘Save the Covered Wagon Inn’ Facebook page now has over 1,500 ‘likes’, a Change.org petition opposing the demolition with 3,700+ signatures and comments, articles by reporter Adam Farence in the Daily Local and Main Line Suburban newspapers, support from Carla Zambelli on Chester County Ramblings, Caroline O’Halloran’s Savvy Mainline, bestselling historical novelists Loretta Chase & Isabella Bradford on their website, Two Nerdy History Girls, tweets on Twitter and Instagram, phone calls and emails from elected officials, historical societies, township and county staff, real estate developers and interested people from all over the country all wanting to share their personal memories of the Covered Wagon Inn and asking how they can help save it. Thank you all.

Tredyffrin Township does not have a historic preservation ordinance preventing the demolition of the Covered Wagon Inn; making every historic property in the township currently ‘at-risk’! A legal fund, as some have suggested fighting the demolition of the Covered Wagon Inn, would serve no purpose. The real estate developer has a legal right to build the CVS Pharmacy with drive-thru at the Strafford location and unfortunately, also has a legal right to demolish the Covered Wagon Inn in the process.

As someone who cares about this community, its history and the historic buildings that make it special, it has been rewarding to find so many people really do care about saving the Covered Wagon Inn.

I remain hopeful that if ‘ there’s a will, there’s a way’ and that the plans for the new CVS in Strafford can be reconfigured so as to successfully coexist with the historic building. I am not opposing the redevelopment of this site, I am opposing the demolition of the Covered Wagon Inn. Sometimes doing the right thing is a challenge but I am confident that John Zaharchuk, owner of Summit Realty Advisors, is the person that can make it happen!

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Look for the next post (Update 2) which includes research on the early years of the Covered Wagon Inn by local historian and author, Margaret DePiano of Devon. Margaret has uncovered some new information about the  Inn and the special 18th century owners linked to its past.

Preserving Tredyffrin: Inside the Covered Wagon Inn Today

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There has been questions about the exact date of the Covered Wagon Inn. According to Tredyffrin Township’s 2003 Historic Resource Survey, the construction date is attributed to circa 1780. A team of professionals from Preservation Design Partnership in Philadelphia conducted the municipal survey documentation project, which surveyed and documented over 350 historic resources in Tredyffrin Township.

Interestingly in 2004, the Historic Resource Survey was given the Government Award by Preservation Pennsylvania. The project was described as “providing a usable preservation planning tool for a suburban township currently under intense development and redevelopment (in the form of “tear-downs”) pressure.”  The award description went on to say that, “Tredyffrin Township Historic Resources Survey represents a model for the use of technology to document and plan for the management, protection and preservation of historic buildings, sites and districts valued by a municipality.”

The township’s 2003 Historic Resource Survey was funded with taxpayer dollars and was intended to aid the municipal officials and staff in the protection of Tredyffrin Township’s resources. The preservation of historic buildings like the Covered Wagon Inn is a one-way street.  There is no chance to reuse or save the building, once it’s gone.  Preservation and restoration is the ultimate form of recycling.  What is historic, and worth saving, varies with the beholder.

Do I have absolute certainty that the construction date of the Covered Wagon Inn is 1780?  The simple answer is no but does that make it less important to save?

Brass plaques on the floor the Covered Wagon Inn marking Delaware County and Chester County.

Covered Wagon Inn fireplace

The Covered Wagon Inn is on the corner of Old Eagle School Road and Lancaster Ave. This intersection marks the boundaries between Radnor Township in Delaware County and Tredyffrin Township in Chester County.  There has been a story swirling that the Covered Wagon Inn is actually in both Radnor and Tredyffrin townships. The plaques face each other, one labeled Chester County and the other Delaware County. Story is that patrons dining in the old inn would want to sit at the table placed over the plaques and enjoy joking that they were sitting in different counties!

Tredyffrin Township’s township manager Bill Martin and zoning director Matt Baumann confirmed that the Covered Covered Wagon Inn interiorWagon Inn is located completely in Tredyffrin Township. The historic building probably was originally in the two counties but at some point, the property boundaries were realigned.  But it still makes for a great story and the brass plaques which remain on the floor are priceless to local history.

When I visited with the staff of Thos. Moser, the current tenants of the Covered Wagon Inn, I took a number of interior photos of the building’s wonderful interior, including the brass plaques on the floor and the large stone fireplace.

The restored interior space is the perfect backdrop for the fine American handmade furniture of Thos Moser.

If these walls could only talk …

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Carla Zambelli in her Chester County Ramblings blog writes in her recent post about the effort to ‘Save the Covered Wagon Inn’. Click here to read: For the Love of Community and History

Please sign the Change.org petition to Save the Covered Wagon Inn by clicking: http://tinyurl.com/SaveCoveredWagonInn In 36 hours, over 1,700 signatures.  People from as far as Hawaii, Washington State, Florida, etc. are sharing memories of the Covered Wagon Inn. Please sign and share your memories.

There is a Facebook page, ‘Save the Covered Wagon Inn’ which has over 1,300 ‘likes’.  Please visit the page and support the effort to save the historic building.  http://www.facebook.com/SaveCoveredWagonInn

9th Annual Historic House Tour – Saturday, September 28 – Tickets Available!

House Tour logoThis time of the year has me focused on two special events – the Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust’s 9th Annual Historic House Tour on Saturday, September 28 (Noon – 5 PM) and the 5th Annual Paoli Blues Fest a week later on Saturday, October 5 (Noon – 6 PM).  As Trust president and chair of the annual house tour and co-chair of the Paoli Blues Fest, I believe that the house tour and the blues festival and street fair represent ‘community’ at its best. 

The 2013 house tour … Every year a new selection of amazing historic properties surprise and delight even the most devoted tour goers! The 9th Annual Historic House Tour features nine historic properties in Tredyffrin and Easttown townships, including private homes, a restored ‘party’ barn and a historic church.  There’s nothing better than the beautiful historic places that memorialize that history in our community – history really does matter!  Old houses tell wonderful stories and the properties on this year’s house tour will not disappoint.  Visitors are invited inside for a glimpse of what it is like to live, work and worship in these unique historic structures that span three centuries, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. A special thank you to the homeowners of these wonderful historic properties for allowing the public a glimpse inside.

If you love history and architecture, you will not want to miss this year’s tour. Tickets are $35 and are now available online at www.tredyffrinhistory.org using your credit card. Or click here for the  9th Annual House Tour Ticket Flyer for ording tickets using a personal credit card.  Additional information on the tour available on the second page.

Beyond the homeowners, is the generous support of individuals, businesses and corporate sponsorships.  Without their support the annual house tour would not be possible.  If you are interested in supporting the house tour, click here for the,9th Annual Historic House Tour – Sponsor Information.  The Trust is still accepting sponsorship for the 2013 tour.  If you have questions about the house tour, sponsorships or would like to volunteer, please contact me at info@tredyffrinhistory.org .  Hope to see you on this year’s tour!

Lenape Farm, c.1750 photo by Carla Zambelli

Private home on 9th Annual Historic House Tour — Lenape Farm, c.1750 (photo courtesy of Carla Zambelli)

9TH ANNUAL HISTORIC HOUSE TOUR SPONSORS

SUPPORTING  SPONSORS
AROUNDMAINLINE.COM
PENN MEDICINE

CONTRIBUTING SPONSORS
ARCADIA LAND COMPANY
GOLDEN VALLEY FARMS COFFEE ROASTERS
HECKENDORN SHILES ARCHITECTS
PAUL & ANDREA OLSON
PERIOD ARCHITECTURE
MURPH & LOIS WYSOCKI

PATRON SPONSORS
ANN LEDGER ARCHITECT
AXIOM ASSET MANAGEMENT
DUPORTAIL HOUSE, INC.
GARDNER/FOX
JAMES GARRISON, AIA
TOM HOGAN & VICTORIA SILBEY
JANICZEK HOMES
STATE REPRESENTATIVE WARREN KAMPF
GLENNA LASALLE KEENE
MICHAEL & MICHELLE KICHLINE
DR. & MRS. GERALD M. LONG
PETE & BONNIE MOTEL
RICH O’HALLORAN AND ATTORNEYS AT DINSMORE
POST HASTE HANDYMAN
BRAD TIFFANY – KISTLER TIFFANY BENEFITS
URBAN ENGINEERS
CARLA ZAMBELLI

 

PA Laws Need to Change to Protect our Family Pets

How sad and senseless was the killing a couple of weeks ago, of two Bernese Mountain dogs in West Vincent Township?  My friend and blogger extraordinaire Carla Zambelli of Chester County Ramblings, has had a major impact on this story. Carla has used her social media skills and connections to seek justice for the dogs and to encourage legislation to protect the rights of our family pets.

As I understand what happened, the two family pets (Argus and Fiona) of Mary and William Bock and their five children, escaped from their fenced yard in Chester Springs. Apparently, the homeowner was unaware of a hole in the fence, caused by a fallen tree limb.  According to Mary Bock, from the time the dogs escaped the yard, until the time the pair were found dead in neighbor Gabe Pilotti’s yard was only about 15 minutes.

Pilotti originally told police that Argus and Fiona were after his sheep in an enclosed pen in his yard.  However, during the investigation, the police determined that the pair of dogs was not chasing the sheep when Pilotti shot them with his shotgun.  Using a single shotgun, means that Pilotti shot the first dog and then would have to remove the shell, and reload with another bullet to shoot the second dog.

Based on an old Pennsylvania state law that permits an individual to kill animals that threaten their livestock, the Chester County District Attorney’s Office originally determined that Pilotti had not committed a crime.  However a couple of days ago, District Attorney Tom Hogan reversed course and filed criminal charges against Pilotti – two counts of cruelty to animals and one count of recklessly endangering another person. Hogan said that the century-old state law did not protect Pilotti because the Bernese Mountain dogs were not attacking his sheep when he shot them.

Pilotti told the police that the dogs had not hurt the sheep and admitted that he did not try to scare the dogs off his property before killing them!  In fact, Pilotti admitted that Argus was not near the sheep and was actually walking towards him when he shot him in the head.  Because the direction Pilotti shot his gun was towards a private residence, the DA’s office added the reckless endangerment to the list of charges.

For regular readers of Community Matters, I have made no secret about my feelings related to guns and need for increased gun control legislation.  This senseless killing of family pets is just another example of what guns can do in the wrong hands and why gun laws need to change in America. Regardless of what happens with his pending criminal case, I am of the opinion that Pilotti needs a complete mental health examination before he is ever allowed to own a gun in the future.  Here’s a question – if Pilotti is convicted of this crime, does it affect his rights to own a gun? Unfortunately, I am confident that if he found ‘not guilty’, his retains his gun rights, just not sure what happens if he convicted.

Life is about making choices. Gabriel Pilotti had a choice when he found Argus and Fiona on his property.  Instead of picking up his cellphone and calling 9-1-1 or chasing the dogs from his yard, he chose to grab his shotgun … leaving a family grieving for their pets.  Pilotti will have to live with the consequences of his horrific choice.

Pilotti has been charged with the crime … now; Pennsylvania laws need to change to protect our pets.  As Carla writes on Chester County Ramblings, Punishment AND fines for animal cruelty need to be tougher all the way around.  It needs to mean more than an inconvenience.”

Thank you Carla for your efforts in seeking justice for Argus and Fiona. So their death was not in vain, along with Carla, I urge you to contact your local elected officials and help be the force behind getting laws changed to protect our family pets. Locally our Pennsylvania contacts are Sen. Andy Dinniman, Andy@psenate.com and State Rep. Warren Kamp, wkampf@pahousegop.com . Send them an email and ask them to support animal rights legislation.  According to Carla’s blog, himself an animal rights advocate, Sen. Dinniman is working a law that “would allow pet owners to civilly sue those who harm or kill their pets.”

Community Matters Closes the Chapter on Police Investigation but Tredyffrin Supervisor Opens a New Chapter

Is it time to close the chapter on the Police Department investigation?  

When I first read about two police officers not showing up at a criminal hearing in Tredyffrin, I admit I had many questions, which only increased as I learned more of the people and circumstances surrounding the situation.  The case may have gone by unnoticed were it not for the fact that the individual arrested in this case was Suzy Pratowski, a township Zoning Hearing Board member and socially linked to a township supervisor John DiBuonaventuro.  In the last few days, we learned that Pratowski had an arrest in June 2010, charged with DUI and child endangerment.  For the record, the child endangerment charge was dropped and although she plead guilty to the DUI.

Many of us had questions about this case, including why was the Pratowski case was moved from Judge Sondergaard’s (D) court to Judge Tartaglio’s (R) court.  Pratowski, until May of 2012 served as a local GOP committeewoman and the change of courts suggested political motives.  Why was this case continued from July to August … the continuance making it more difficult to understand why the two police officers did not show at the August hearing.  Without the police officers in attendance at the August 21 hearing, the Judge decided a ‘not guilty’ decision for Pratowski, case closed.  Why and how could this have happened?

In trying to come up with some answers, I did not set out to do my own investigation.  However, after the last three days, I am feeling like a cross between a freshman law clerk and a Lt. Colombo.  In the course of 72 hours, I have had extended phone conversations with Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan and Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors Chair Michelle Kichline and thorough discussions with District Court Judge Tom Tartaglio and Tredyffrin Police Superintendent Andy Giaimo.  Previously, I have shared my discussion with Hogan on Community Matters.

My next conversation occurred with Ms. Kichline. I learned that in addition to a review of the internal police investigation by the District Attorney’s office, she had personally conducted her own review.  Like many of us, Kichline questioned how it could happen that township police officers did not show up for a hearing, etc.  Although certainly not pleased with the situation, Kichline (like Hogan) was satisfied that the ‘clerical error’ or more correctly, the human error rested solely with the two police officers.  Appreciating that there was a perception in the public, me included, that there must be more to this story, Kichline suggested that if I had further questions or needed information regarding how the police receive court notifications, that Police Chief Supt. Giaimo would be happy to discuss it.

Police Chief Supt. Giaimo generously changed his schedule to meet with me yesterday.  Before going to the police department, I went to the District Court to ask for copies of any public documents surrounding this case.  In the process of explaining my request to the clerk, Judge Tartaglio thought he heard my voice, and came to the front lobby to talk with me.  Having read some of the misinformation in comments on Community Matters, Judge Tartaglio truly wanted me to understand the facts from the District Court side.  An unexpected opportunity for me, I found Tartaglio open and honest in his responses.  We had a lengthy 30 min conversation and I received copies of public documents in the three Pratowski cases (two criminal and one non-criminal).  I will highlight some of the misconceptions that some of us may have had surrounding the case.

First off, the Pratowski hearing was originally scheduled for Judge Sondergaard’s court.  At the request of Judge Sondergaard, the case was transferred out of her court (not at the request of Pratowski).  Stated reason for the transfer by Sondergaard – she knows the plaintiff.   As a point of clarification, when a Judge requests the transfer of a case, the request is sent to the County and they decide the disposition of the hearing.  It is not a given that cases are transferred between Sondergaard and Tartaglio although because of geography, the county generally tries to keep the cases convenient for those involved.

Next point, how does the Police Department receive notifications of hearings from the District Court? Each day, either a Tredyffrin police officer or a Police Department employee, physically comes to the District Court and picks up the communications.  Notifications are not mailed to the Police Department. (I will explain the Police Department handling of the District Court mail shortly).

Much discussion on Community Matters stemmed from what happened on the August 21 court date.  Who was at the hearing and who was not at Pratowski’s hearing.  There were six people expected to be at the hearing, the two police officers (Allen Dori and Dan McFadden) Pratowski and her attorney, Vince DiFabio, Pratowski’s ex-husband Jay Ciccarone and a witness.  The ‘witness’ was something new I learned from Judge Tartaglio … the witness was a neighbor of Ciccarone who saw Pratowski pull the flowers from Ciccarone’s property and gave a statement to the police.  To this point, I was not aware of a witness.  Ciccarone was claiming $200 in damages for the landscaping, which is why he would have needed to attend the hearing.  Pratowski, DiFabio and the witness (I have his name but don’t feel it’s necessary to name him) showed up but Ciccarone, Dori and McFadden did not show-up.  I later learned from Supt. Giaimo that criminal cases are typically scheduled for Fridays – this hearing was a Tuesday, which caused some confusion for the police officers, and apparently also for Ciccarone.

Judge Tartaglio showed me the courtroom and a typical schedule for hearings – yesterday there were 7 or 8 cases all scheduled for 9 AM.  He explained that everyone scheduled for that time shows up at the same time, some cases are very quick, such as granting a continuance, and they can go quickly through the list.  Sometimes people don’t show up and cases are dismissed.  In the Pratowski hearing, why wasn’t the case dismissed rather than a not guilty verdict.  Judge Tartaglio explained that it was his prerogative to make that decision.  We discussed that the plaintiff was paying her attorney to attend this hearing and the witness had to take time off from work to attend, was it fair that they should have to go through this again. There was no evidence presented in the case because the prosecution did not attend — Judge Tartaglio stands behind his decision of ‘not guilty’.

I asked about why didn’t someone call the police department and Judge Tartaglio’s response was that typically it is the police officers who call in to the court when they are running late, explaining that they are delayed due an emergency, etc. and the Judge is willing to wait, when required.

My overall takeaway from my visit to the District Court and discussion with Judge Tartaglio – an organized, well-managed office with a Judge that is forthcoming, honest and committed to doing a good job.  He wanted me to mention that if he had an emergency, the two police officers he would want helping would be Dori and McFadden!  I want to publicly thank Judge Tartaglio for his time and willingness to explain the court procedure.  I think he believed that if I understood the process, I could explain it correctly on Community Matters.

Leaving the District Court, I went to the Tredyffrin Township Police Department to meet with Police Supt. Tony Giaimo.  I described my previous conversations with DA Hogan, BOS chair Kichline and District Judge Tartaglio, and that all roads came back to the police department.  I offered that as a result of this particular situation, there is a negative perception of the Police Department by some, and that many residesnts are concerned that we do not have the full story.  Supt. Giaimo understood my concerns and was completely open and willing to explain the process, including what went wrong and how the process has been corrected.  Again, I will offer the highlights of our hour discussion.  First off, has this situation ever occurred where a police officer(s) did not show up a public hearing?  Since becoming police chief nine months ago, the answer is no.  Before that point, I did not think it fair to expect Supt. Giaimo to know when or how often something similar had occurred.  It is important to note that it had not previously happened under his watch.  Giaimo did offer that there could be a situation where a police officer was unavailable to attend due to an emergency, etc. and that a replacement may have to go.  Fair enough, he further stated that had he known that the police officers were not going to the Pratowski hearing, he himself would have attended.

Were the police officers notified of the August 21 hearing date?  Yes, the hearing continuance was received by the Police Department, the information correctly entered at the front office and the original notifications put in the police officers box.  Here was a problem, at least one of the officers had a full mailbox and the notice was buried in the paperwork.   I asked and was told, that the internal Police Department does not have a computerized master calendar.  I suggested to Supt. Giaimo that perhaps the system needed to change and automate.

The police officers do not have BlackBerrys (or anything similar), they transfer the hearing notifications into their daily planners.  According to Giaimo, unfortunately, neither police officer had the August 21 date in their daily planners.  I told him that it would be a lot easier to believe this human error, if it was one rookie cop involved rather than two seasoned career police officers, he agreed.

On to the investigation and review by the Police Department – I learned that the department has an Internal Affairs Officer who conducted the investigation. The report was reviewed by the District Attorney’s office and by BOS Chair Kichline.  Because of his association with Pratowski, BOS supervisor John DiBuonaventuro was interviewed; an entire page of questions were asked.  The investigation concluded that the supervisor was not involved.

Something that Supt. Giaimo volunteered which I found interesting … Giaimo’s immediate thought when he found out that the police officers had missed the Pratowski hearing was that the Police Department would re-file the case.  However, he quickly learned that due to Judge Tartaglio’s ‘not guilty’ verdict rather than a dismissal, the Pratowski case was closed and the option to re-file the case was no longer available.

Bottom line, not one but two police officers failed to show for this August 21 hearing, the day following their attendance at the Board of Supervisors meeting marking their promotions. Unfortunately, that is what happened, so were the officers reprimanded.  Yes, Supt. Giaimo explained that both received written reprimands and the permanent personnel files of the two police officers contain this information.  This was an important turning point for me … there is no way that I think that these two officers were influenced by a third-party not to show up at this hearing.  It would not be worth the price tag of a permanent blemish on their records to ‘help out’ or ‘do a favor’ .

Where does the Police Department go from here?  I told Supt. Giaimo that this unfortunate situation is more than just about two police officers making a mistake … it becomes a dark cloud for the Police Department.  He fully appreciates the seriousness of the situation and the public perception – if I was a betting person, I am about 100% positive that this situation will never occur again.  I asked what changes have been implemented internally to the system to lessen the chances of a repeat performance.  Supt. Giaimo  responded that he immediately added additional safeguards to the process.  Prior to the August 21 hearing, there were three steps in the process – (1) Log in of all District Court notices by Police Department personnel, (2) Clerk then enters notices in Share Point and (3) Paper copy of notices put in to appropriate officer’s mailboxes.  Two additional steps are now in place – (4) Hearing notices are read out loud daily at the beginning of each shift change and (5) Police Department supervisors review daily the time schedules of all their officers.  The additional steps should guarantee that this type of situation does not occur again.

In closing, I am completely satisfied that this was a case, unfortunately of human error; — a situation complicated by the fact that the individual involved was a public official (a member of the Zoning Hearing Board) and that there were two officers involved versus one.  In the end, it was a mistake and I know one that will not be repeated.

I am grateful to Supt. Tony Giaimo, District Judge Tom Tartaglio, BOS chair Michelle Kichline and District Attorney Tom Hogan for their candor, openness and honesty.  Each of them supported my effort to find answers and understood the importance of the public’s right to know the facts.  Answers to the questions were provided with the complete understanding and support that the information would be shared on Community Matters.

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I hope that all who read the above narrative, come away with a positive feeling about these four individuals (Tom Hogan, Michelle Kichline, Tom Tartaglio and Tony Giaimo) and the parts of our local government that they represent – I believe that these individuals respect the citizens of Tredyffrin and are trying to do ‘what’s right’ by us.

Unfortunately, as I was completing this exhaustive summary, I was told of an open letter to the citizens, penned by BOS supervisor John DiBuonaventuro.  Apparently, DiBuonaventuro does not support Main Line Media News, Community Matters or the civil rights of citizens to express their opinions on this topic.  Below is the last paragraph of DiBuonaventuro’s letter, click here for the full text. The tag line for Community Matters is “Your Voice Matters, Join the Conversation” and I stand behind it … we, as the community do matter and your voice does count!

“I strongly believe in “freedom of speech,” but not in “freedom of defamation.” I believe the “Community Matters” blog began with good intent, but it has, for whatever personal reasons and misguidance, mestastasized into a channel of direct personal attacks on individuals in public service and/or its entities.  Almost all who have participated in those unsubstantiated allegations, criticisms, and false accusations remain cowardly anonymous.  I also question if they would have the fortitude and stamina to engage in a one-on-one campaign for elected office let alone serve in a position with little or not pay, full responsibility for the health, safety and welfare of the citizens they serve, and which appears to offer nothing more than continuous ridicule in return.

I have closed the chapter on the police investigation but it looks like Supervisor John DiBuonaventuro has opened a new chapter.  I am saddened that supervisor DiBuonaventuro has taken such a negative view of me, Community Matters and of those citizens who comment on Community Matters, whether anonymously or not.  For the record, I was the one who clarified the perception that readers could have from the Main Line Media News story due to the associated photo of DiBuonaventuro and Pratowski.   I explained on Community Matters that the unnamed male was not DiBuonaventuro but according to the police report, an attorney from Haverford.  Carla Zambelli of Chester County Ramblings has posted the DiBuonaventuro’s letter and asks the question, is the letter a “threat”?  Read it and you be the judge.  In my world, community and our voice does matter!

UPDATE: DA Tom Hogan Weighs In … Is it a Get Out of Jail Free Card for Tredyffrin Official? You be the Judge!

9-3-12 UPDATE: District Attorney Tom Hogan Weighs In (See end of post)

There was a troubling news article in last week’s Main Line Media News  about one of Tredyffrin Township’s Zoning Hearing Board members, Suzy Pratowski.  TE Patch, the Daily Local and, then a couple of days ago, the Philadelphia Inquirer, picked up the story.

There are several reasons why I think this story caught people’s attention, me included.  The initial newspaper headline, ‘Zoning hearing board member not guilty after police are a no-show at her trial’, causing some of us a double take.  Zoning hearing board member? Trial? MIA police officers?  What was all of this about? Since when do township police officers not show up at trials?  I cannot believe that this is a regular occurrence … I wonder when the last time was that a police officer did not show up for a scheduled hearing?

Remembering back a few years ago,  I decided to fight a traffic violation in Tredyffrin and showed up at my scheduled time at Judge Blackburn’s courtroom.  The traffic officer who had written my citation arrived on time for the hearing with his 6 in. thick codebook ready to defend his case against me.  Although I was well prepared, (albeit sans an attorney), the police officer’s testimony prevailed – I lost the case and paid my fine.  The point is, my hearing was for a routine traffic violation and the officer involved showed up.  From the newspaper articles, Pratowski’s case is far from routine, and she isn’t just ‘Joe Citizen’ … Suzy Pratowski is a supervisor-appointed member of Tredyffrin’s Zoning Hearing Board.

For those that have not followed the case, Pratowski was arrested in Chesterbrook on May 28, charged on two counts, public drunkenness and disorderly conduct, and issued citations. The situation involved a domestic altercation between Pratowski and her former husband, Jay Ciccarone.  I have read the police reports and the account in the newspaper is accurate with one clarification. When Pratowski arrived to pick up her children at Ciccarone’s house, she was not driving but rather a passenger in a car driven by an unnamed male, a designated driver.  Ciccarone was unwilling to turn the two boys over to Pratowski, citing their custody agreement, which requires that Ms. Pratowski not drink alcohol 10 hours before driving and picking up the children. The police officer determined that Pratowski had been drinking and therefore the children should remain with Ciccarone.

A photo accompanying the Main Line Media newspaper article showed Ms. Pratowski with township supervisor John DiBuonaventuro at a 2011 Devereux charity event.  In reading the article, in conjunction with the accompanying photo, it is possible that a reader could conclude that DiBuonaventuro was the unnamed male driver on May 28.  However, that assumption would be wrong … the police report names a Haverford attorney as the driver, not supervisor DiBuonaventuro.  Pratowski left Ciccarone’s home without the children however, returned later that night on her bicycle and police were again called.  With a PBT (preliminary breath test) reading of .18, the officer cited Pratowski with public drunkenness, disorderly conduct and returned her home in a police car.

Two years earlier, in June 2010, during a vehicle stop, Pratowski was charged with DUI, having received a PBT reading of .127.  Pratowski’s two children were in the vehicle at the time and although initially charged with child endangerment, that charge was later dropped. Pratowski pleaded guilty to the DUI.  In reading the police report from 2010, I noted that situation also involved Pratowski’s former husband Jay Ciccarone.  Concerned for his children’s wellbeing, it was Ciccarone who called the police which ultimately resulted in Pratowski’s DUI arrest. The recent May 2012 incident was Pratowski’s second involving alcohol — a second offense that could have had grave consequences for Pratowski legally.

Although the charges against Pratowski were significant, it remains a real mystery as to why the police officers involved were no-shows at her hearing.  Not just one police officer but two officers failed to show up.  How is this possible? According to the Main Line Media News article, “Tredyffrin police Lt. Taro Landis said the officer who was supposed to show up in court that day was on another call at the time.”  The police department explained the absent police officer as an ‘oversight’.  Considering this was a second offense for this defendant, I do question why the police officer would have another call at the time. No mention as to why the other police officer was also MIA for the hearing.

In the Philadelphia Inquirer follow-up article, Tredyffrin Police Chief Tony Giaimo cited a ‘clerical error’ on the part of the officers as to the reason they did not show up at Pratowski’s trial.  He further stated that the officers were disciplined but offered no details.  OK, I’m confused … if it was a clerical error, why would the police officers need to be disciplined?  And where exactly did the clerical error occur; within the police department, the District Court … the police officer’s Blackberry schedule?

It needs to be stated that the police officers involved in Pratowski’s May 28 arrest were not rookie cops. Allen Dori, is a 10-yr. veteran in the Tredyffrin police department and Daniel McFadden, a 20-year veteran and a certified crime scene investigator.  Coincidentally just a couple of days before the Main Line Media story first appeared on August 24, both Dori and McFadden were promoted at the August 20 Board of Supervisors meeting. Police officer Dori was promoted from patrol officer to corporal and McFadden promoted from patrol officer to detective.  Based on their experience and background, these two police officers do not strike me as individuals who would miss an important hearing because of a clerical error!

So let me understand this correctly, if there is a clerical error and the arresting police officer (or in this case, two police officers) does not show up at the hearing, the case is simply dismissed.  Does this mean that the records of the case are expunged?  When a clerical error occurs, am I to understand that there is no such thing as the rescheduling of the hearing.  Magically, the problem is solved and the defendant receives a ‘pass’. Wow … amazing! Based on the remarks that Police Chief Giaimo gave to the Philadelphia Inquirer, it appears that the matter is closed, but should it be?  .

In addition to process questions surrounding this incident, we are left with the open issue about Pratowski’s suitability to serve on the township’s Zoning Hearing Board.  Appeals for relief from decisions of the Zoning Officer and/or requirements in the zoning Ordinance are handled by the ZHB. Unlike other boards and commissions in the township, the ZHB is a quasi-judicial body whose decisions are not subject to the approval of the supervisors. I am thinking that Pratowski’s guilty verdict for DUI in June 2010 should have warranted her dismissal from the ZHB.  For those of you wondering what the grounds are for removal from the ZHB, the following is from the PA Municipal Planning Code that governs the ZHB in our municipality:

Article IX – Zoning Hearing Board and other Administrative Proceedings

Section 905. Removal of Members. Any board member may be removed for malfeasance, misfeasance or nonfeasance in office or for other just cause by a majority vote of the governing body which appointed the member, taken after the member has received 15 days’ advance notice of the intent to take such a vote. A hearing shall be held in connection with the vote if the member shall request it in writing.

Reading the section titled ‘Removal of Members’, it would appear that Pratowski should be removed from the ZHB. Pratowski occupies the seat on the Zoning Hearing Board once held by John Petersen.  As a former ZHB member, a supervisor and an attorney, I asked him for his comments —

I was very sad to hear about Suzy’s troubles. I’ve known her to be a good person and I sincerely hope that she gets to a point, for the benefit of her and her children,  where portions of her life are not being played out in the paper. In most cases, this would be a private matter. Back in 2005 when I was appointed to fill  vacancy on the BOS, I left the ZHB and had recommended Suzy to take my place. I was happy to do so then as she was qualified and has done a good job. However, as a former member of the governing body and the ZHB, I also have to consider the consequences of actions that place confidence in our public institutions at risk. Serving is a privilege, not a right. Given the history here, I have to wonder why Suzy was not removed from the ZHB back in 2010. These latest incidents only serve to add to growing list of questions concerning the integrity of our local government. It’s even worse when there is no confidence in the police, who at various times, holds, albeit brief, a decisive role in a person’s individual freedom. Between township staff, elected officials, certain boards and appointees or the dealings of those appointees and the police, nothing appears to be working correctly in Tredyffrin Township. I  actually fear our government and police as they don’t act in the citizens’ best interest.

As to the “clerical error”, as a lawyer, I find that to be hard to believe. It’s a rather generic answer – one that the Inquirer should have followed up on with this simple question: “What was the error?” The workings between the district courts, the County and the various police departments are actually quite efficient. If this was a clerical error, then it was an error that was of the same proportion of that single bullet on that fateful day on November 22, 1963. There would have had to have been errors in Judge Sondergaard’s office as well as the administration in the police department and other people. Did other Tredyffrin Police manage to show up that day for other cases, or the day prior or after? Why this case? Why this person? When was the last time this sort of thing happened? Maybe it’s a common practice? But for Suzy’s private issues and the fact that she is a public official did this one come to light? Again, it’s about the appearance of impropriety.

Nobody has mentioned this yet, but I think it is fair game for DA Tom Hogan to make an inquiry here. As I see it, a full and open investigation is the only way the matter can get cleared up. We’ve already had a major scandal with former chief Chambers. And not too long before Chambers, chief Harkness was dismissed amidst a cloud of allegations the subject of which are/were part of a confidentiality agreement.  Between that, alleged civil rights violations and other things – it’s not been a good time for the police or the government as a whole.

For longer than I care to remember, too many bad acts. In many ways, we’ve not progressed beyond Harry Marrone. Too many questions. This really goes to the honor and integrity of people. What I’ve been seeing lately is a lot of inaction and indecisiveness from township leadership. Again I ask – when is it going to stop? When are the adults going to take charge? When can people have confidence that their government and police will treat all people fairly and equally instead of calling person’s political affiliations out as just being a “Data point?” Anybody else, with these players involved, and I doubt seriously that there would be a “Clerical error.”  And when they don’t treat people fairly and equally, will those same governmental actors ever be held accountable? Candidly, I was not a fan of Giamo’s promotion – given the recent history. Has nothing to do with Tony as a person or his qualifications. It has everything to do with the integrity of the institution and the confidence that public has in that institution. Sometimes, you just have to bring people in from the outside. I believe had we had truly shaken things up, there would not have been a “Clerical error.” One simply cannot look past the fact that Suzy was at a time, a TTRC member, dating a supervisor and of course, is a member of the ZHB. Anybody who cites those factors as being irrelevant is simply being willfully naïve.  I lost my political mentor John Waldeyer in 2005. He was a good man and a great steward of good and honorable political values. He always said to me that the most important thing in politics and service is to be identified with good government. Everything else takes care of itself.  A lot of people forgot those words. I’ve never forgotten them. John would be absolutely ashamed of what we see today. And if he were around today, we would not see the crap we’ve seen for the last 7 years.  People around here have long forgotten what good government is. No government is perfect, but it can still be good nevertheless. John exercised discipline. John was an adult.

Finally, a personal plea to Suzy – if you have not done so, offer up your resignation. Doing so would mark the first time in a very long time a public official did the right thing in the face of adversity.

 Do Tredyffrin Township residents really need another St. Davids sidewalk saga or a ‘big check’ moment — remember the fire funding spectacle with cameras rolling? As Carla Zambelli, fellow blogger and friend, wrote on Chester County Ramblings in her post , “enough Tredyffrin. enough”   … “Tredyffrin needs to get its house in order and stop sounding and acting like a Shakespearian tragedy meets a made for TV movie on Lifetime.”   Carla does have a way with words, just wish in this case, she wasn’t right.

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9-3-12 UPDATE:  District Attorney Tom Hogan Weighs In

I sent an email to District Attorney Tom Hogan, asking if this situation constitutes an investigation by his office.  The DA called and we had a lengthy discussion on this matter.  It is with his permission that I can offer this update.  According to the Hogan, there has been an investigation and review.  Police Chief Tony Giaimo conducted an internal department investigation and then asked for an outside review from the District Attorney’s office on the ‘clerical error’ matter.  According to the internal police report, there were scheduling issues and the two police officers were not notified of Suzy Pratowski’s hearing date.  The DA also reported that Pratowski’s former husband Jay Cicarrone was also not notified of the hearing date.  Pratowski and her attorney were the only ones to receive notification.

Hogan also offered that because of township supervisor John DiBuonaventuro’s relationship with Pratowski (and questions concerning his possible involvement), the police as part of the investigation interviewed DiBuonaventuro.  The police department determined that DiBuonaventuro was not involved in the situation. The internal investigation determined that a clerical error as the reason that the two officers missed the hearing.  The District Attorney’s office reviewed the police department findings and was satisfied by the report.

I asked the DA how often does  a clerical error occur that police officers miss a scheduled hearing. Although Hogan said that it does happen, he did say it was not common in Tredyffrin Township.  I let our District Attorney know that many of us were troubled by the appearance of this situation.  For the record, the District Attorney’s office has no jurisdiction over Pratowski’s continued membership on Tredyffrin’s Zoning Hearing Board – the appointment and removal of ZHB members is a Board of Supervisors matter.

There was discussion of the ‘not guilty’ verdict for Pratowsk, given that the two police officers and Cicarrone did not attend the hearing.  I will defer the legal explanation of the judicial process to John Petersen, who also spoke with Tom Hogan. Here are John’s comments:

I had an opportunity to speak to DA Tom Hogan on the matter. Normally, jeopardy does not attach in a case like this until the first witness is sworn – when the trier of fact (the judge in this case) has begun his journey of fact finding. This is all about protecting a defendant’s 5th amendment rights to due process, and specifically, a defendant’s right to not be tried more than once for the same crime. In this case, the judge had 3 options (really only two legitimate options in my opinion). The first is to find the defendant not guilty and close the case. This would NOT have been appropriate in my opinion because the prosecution was not present due to what has been regarded as an honest clerical error. How could a judge weigh facts that were not presented? The big problem with this option – jeopardy attaches. To review, in this case, not only did the police not show up, but the judge took the one choice that assured this matter went away forever.

The other two options were to 1 – dismiss without prejudice – giving leave to the police to re file the charges or 2 – to simply continue the trial. It seems to me the one that was most prudent in this case was to simply order a continuance. That would have remediated the clerical error and it would not have resulted in any constitutionally protected rights of the defendant being violated.  Dismissing the case would have required the police to re-file charges – which would have resulted in additional time and expense.

Apparently, Judge Rita Arnold, another DJ, successfully quashed a citation against her son. In her case, she was suspended for 30 days. She’s back on the bench. As for her son, he gets off scot free.  If you are thinking it pays to have connections you are right. I have been told there is a strong likelihood of a memo going out to DJ’s that gives better guidance on when it’s appropriate to make a determination on guilt vs. a dismissal vs. a continuance. It’s a bit concerning that guidance has to be given on this. Shouldn’t judges know better? The DJ system is broken and this reinforces my opinion that DJ’s need to be lawyers. This often surprises folks that DJ’s don’t need to be lawyers.

My conclusion on this – we’ll likely never know what really happened here.  I have to ask whether a regular, non-connected person would be as lucky? The answer is absolutely not. Justice was not served here. And yet again, a connected person caught breaks that non-connected people don’t get. I am left with no other conclusion that this particular defendant was helped by many people with influence. How and why do I conclude that? Because there are no facts to suggest otherwise.

I have no faith in any aspect of our local government, it’s people and it’s ability to do the right thing.

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