Chesterbrook Civic Association

Abandoned House in Chesterbrook – Owner Deceased, Who is Responsible?’

Few things rattle a neighborhood like an abandoned home. Run-down and abandoned homes can make an entire neighborhood look bad. Trash, overgrown grass and pest problems can spill over into neighboring properties. But abandoned houses can be more than just an eyesore — they can bring down property values, create safety hazards and invite crime. But who owns these properties, and what can you do to make them take responsibility for their home?

There’s a difference between a home that is simply vacant, meaning everyone in the neighborhood knows when and why the last residents left, from an abandoned home, where people sort of left without saying good-bye.  Such is the case with a single-family home in Chesterbrook – the residents left one day four years ago and never returned.

?

At the end of the Tredyffrin supervisors meeting on May 16 , under ‘New Matters’, a group of citizens from the  quiet Armstrong Court cul-de-sac in the Fox Hollow community of Chesterbrook spoke about the abandoned home on their street.  They passionately described a deteriorating overgrown house where the residents simply disappeared about 4 years ago, in 2012.

The neighbors went on to describe unusual activity at the house during the past winter – different people regularly coming and going during the middle of the night, departing by sunrise each day.  Concerned for their safety and the rundown, overgrown appearance of the house, they told the supervisors that they had made phone calls to the police – one neighbor reported her concern was dismissed and told that she was a ‘busy body’.

For those that may not know, the Fox Hollow development is located in theFox Hollow 6 far western section of Chesterbrook. The rear yard of the abandoned house backs up to the PA Turnpike; and very little separates the speeding cars from the property. Concerned about its unkempt appearance, neighbors admit that they took turns keeping the grass mowed, so as not to detract from their own properties.

Following the May supervisors meeting, I have had contact with several of the Armstrong Court homeowners.  Visiting the neighborhood, I tried to assure the residents that between the township staff, supervisors and police, help was on its way.  It has been a month since the last supervisors meeting and unfortunately, the neighbors report no follow-up contact and little change.

Fox Hollow 4

Walking around the house, it is obvious that the house is in complete disrepair. Due to severe deterioration, it’s unclear if the building is salvageable.  There are holes in the roof and on the end of the upper floor, piles of trash bags and furniture parts on the driveway and garage area, uncovered utility pipe in the front yard, water and electric turnoff notices littering the walkway and the front door is adorned with official-looking vacant/abandoned stickers.

I checked Chester County public document database for property ownership and discovered that the owner of record (who neighbors claim never lived in the house) purchased the home in 2005 at the age of 88.  According to the neighbors, it was the owner’s son and his family who occupied the property until abruptly leaving in 2012.  According to her obituary, the elderly owner passed away in May 2011 at the age of 94 in a Wynnewood nursing home.  Public records indicate that the mortgage was satisfied in April 2013 and that property taxes are current. Although the owner (who never lived in the house) passed away four years ago, her name remains listed as the sole owner in 2016.

Single-family homes in the Fox Hollow community of Chesterbrook are valuable. A quick check on Zillow indicates a house, around the corner from the abandoned Armstrong Court home, sold for $700K last September. Why pay off the mortgage and stay current with taxes and let the vacant house fall to disrepair for 4 years.  It makes no sense.

The neighbors need help; which is why they spoke publicly at the May supervisors meeting. They are worried about their safety (remember the house backs up to the turnpike), possible illegal activities, devaluation of property values … and the list goes on and on.  The owner of the property is deceased, so what can these folks do?

Tredyffrin Township’s elected officials, staff, solicitor, police … Who is responsible for helping these Tredyffrin Township residents?

Message from Chesterbrook resident Doug Anestad, “Stop the TE School Board!”

No FencingThe fencing situation at Valley Forge Middle School remains in a word – unsettled. Many Chesterbrook residents showed up for the Facilities Committee meeting on Friday with the hope that the matter would finally be resolved. Although there has been some progress including no fencing directly behind the Green Hills homes and no fencing through the woods, open issues remain.

The compromise for the fencing on Rt. 252/Valley Forge Road (next to Valley Forge Middle School) is for a white vinyl rail-type fence rather than the 4 ft. chain link fencing installed at the District’s other schools. The pricing for the vinyl rail fencing is not known; however, the discussion is for Chesterbrook residents to pay fifty percent of any additional costs.Because less fencing will be required at VFMS, perhaps any additional costs for the vinyl rail type fencing could be absorbed by the District.

Although the proposed decorative vinyl rail fencing is aesthetically more appealing than chain link fencing, it really does beg the question (again) … why the fences?  Clearly, a rail fence (even more so than a chain link fence) has no safety value and only serves to mark the boundaries of the school. Surely, the school board cannot use the District’s safety study as the rationale for vinyl rail fencing.

The frustration among Chesterbrook residents regarding the fencing continues to rise; much like a hamster wheel, the conversation just keeps going in circles.  Green Hills homeowner Doug Anestad is no longer standing on the sidelines in the discussion but has become proactive in his pursuit of change. A former math teacher in Philadelphia, he has more than a passing understanding of school safety.  A parent with two children in the District, Anestad supports maintaining quality education but believes that the District’s spending is out of control. Printing and mailing postcards to 4,000, Anestad is taking his vision for reform in the school district to the residents.

In his message for change, Anestad is asking residents to contact the school board and voice their concerns.  Direct in his approach, Anestad appeals to District 2 voters not to support current school board president Kris Graham’s bid for reelection and further suggests voting for Ed Sweeney (R) and Michelle Burger (D) on Primary Election Day, Tuesday, May19. I give Doug Anestad a lot of credit – engaged and direct, he’s not standing on the sidelines!  Let’s see if his plan works.

Anestad provided the following response when asked about the impetus for the postcard. (Front and back images of the postcard are at the end of the post). 

From Doug Anestad:

I want to let people know some of the background of the postcards that went out this past Saturday, May 16th and the history behind them.

For the past couple of months, I have been involved with conversations surrounding the fencing project for Valley Forge Middle School, T/E Middle School, and Conestoga High School. The community around Valley Forge Middle School was unaware of the fencing project until Tredyffrin Township notified neighbors next to Valley Forge Middle School at the beginning of this year that the T/E school district was planning for construction that might impact them.

What the community discovered was a fencing project for the three above-mentioned schools that would have fences around the sides and back of all three schools for a cost of around $237,000. One of my children is a student at Valley Forge Middle School and another at Conestoga High School. I taught for a decade in the School District of Philadelphia before going back into industry and I can attest to the harm done to the atmosphere of a school and the ineffectiveness of fences as a safety measure for children due to the nature of schools. There are some cases such as steering students away from dangerous areas and in elementary schools where fences are necessary, but in general, less is more.

For anyone who falsely believes that the fences around the middle schools or high school might improve safety for our students, you should know that the side fences would only be 4’ high and there would be no fence along the front of the buildings. All someone would have to do is to simply hop over the fence or walk around to the front. Basically, what this means is that we are changing the atmosphere for our inviting and beautiful schools to be more prison like with no improvement to safety.

To add insult to injury, the T/E school district is currently running a projected $5,268,067 deficit for next year – yes over five million dollars! They will make up most of that with a tax increase of over $3,630,000. Even after raising our taxes by over three million dollars, they will still be over $1,600,000 short.

The fencing project isn’t the only place where the school district is spending money it doesn’t need to right now. They are also working on a new maintenance and storage building that was originally projected to be around $2 million. The cost overruns have now brought it up to $4 million. At some point, shouldn’t they reconsider? In addition, they are adding expensive positions to the T/E administrative team. When you are running a $5 million deficit, is now really a good time to be growing the administrative overhead?

For the reasons above, I wanted to make sure that the community better understood some of the T/E school board issues before the primary elections this coming Tuesday, May 19th. My hope is that I may have accomplished that to some small degree.

Front of postcard:

Stop Spending pg 1

Back of postcard:

Stop Spending pg 2

TE School District Submits VFMS Fencing Permit Application … Tredyffrin Township Denies Request!

No FencingValley Forge Middle School fencing was not on the Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors April 20th meeting, but many Chesterbrook residents attended the meeting and spoke against the TE School Board’s project.  The supervisors deferred all questions/comments to the township’s solicitor Vince Donohue for response who told audience members that the township would not get involved until the District made either a “permit request or there was a shovel in the ground”.  Chesterbrook residents left the meeting hoping for a more proactive approach by township officials.

The ‘wait and see’ township attitude was quickly tested when the School District submitted a permit request  for the Valley Forge Middle School fencing this past week.  The township’s Planning and Zoning Director Matt Bauman denied the permit request on the spot and in a letter to the School District, stated

“Please be advised that the permit is hereby denied.  The issuance of the permit would violate the terms of that certain Zoning Hearing Board Decision in Appeal Number 64-02 issued December 17, 2002.”

The School Board’s action attempted to violate the legal agreement between TESD and the Chesterbrook Civic Association. Without an amendment to the Special Exception granted by Tredyffrin Township’s Zoning Hearing Board in 2002, how does the School Board think that they can move forward with their planned fencing project at VFMS?

Unless something has changed in the last couple of days, there has been no movement on part of the School Board or the District to resolve the VFMS fencing situation directly with the Green Hills residents or with the Chesterbrook Civic Association.  As David Miller, president of CCA told us at the supervisors meeting, there has been no return of phone calls or emails to either himself or to the Green Hills and CCA attorneys from the School Board or their attorney David Falcone of Saul Ewing. Yet the District went ahead and made a permit application for the fencing!

I encourage Chesterbrook residents and Valley Forge Road neighbors to bring their chain link fencing opposition message to the TE School Board meeting on Monday, April 27, 7:30 PM at Conestoga High School.  At some point, the School Board has to listen to those that they were elected to serve.

Contrary to what you may have heard … No compromise reached on planned Valley Forge Middle School fencing!

As we learned at Monday night Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisor meeting there seems to be some cfencing 2onfusion and/or misunderstanding surrounding TE School District’s planned fencing project at Valley Forge Middle School.  Some members of the school board have suggested that the issue was settled with the Green Hills homeowners and Chesterbrook Civic Association and compromise reached.  We learned at the supervisors meeting, that the township solicitor Vince Donohue (and apparently the supervisors), had heard the same inaccurate rumor.

Other than a statement by TESD President Kris Graham read to a handful of people at the Facilities Meeting on Friday, April 10, 2 PM, there has been no communication whatsoever between the school district and the Valley Forge Middle School neighbors regarding the fencing.  But somehow, the school board president’s statement was translated by the school board as an agreement and circulated to the public. Negotiation is a discussion between both parties trying to work on a solution.  It doesn’t work when you only have one party at the table.

During the public comment period at the supervisors meeting, Green Hills resident and president of the Chesterbrook Civic Association David Miller, read the following prepared statement which offers historical background.  I think its important for people to understand that the VFMS fencing issue is unique and differs from the other TESD fencing projects.

Although the fencing project will probably not be listed on the agenda for the TESD school board meeting, on Monday, April 27 (7:30 PM at Conestoga High School), I strongly urge the Green Hills residents to attend and voice their concerns and opposition.

Good evening my name is David Miller, I am President of the Chesterbrook Civic Association and a resident of Green Hills in Chesterbrook; I’ve lived in the township for over 20 years.

We are here because:

  • The Chesterbrook Civic Association has a legal agreement with the TESD concerning development around VFMS. This agreement was reached and documented with the township’s assistance through the special exception granted by the zoning hearing board when the 4 athletic fields adjacent to VFMS were developed in 2002/3.
  • At the April 10th Facilities Committee meeting we think the TESD presented plans that will violate this agreement. I say we “think” because nothing is in writing and the fact that the VFMS fence was going to be discussed was only added to the agenda 2 hours before the Facilities Committee Meeting which was held at 2:00 on a Friday.  So, as you would expect, it was difficult to getting people there at the last minute.
  • We think their plan is to build a fence along the northern border of the original Middle School lot and along Valley forge Road to the border with Green Hills and then along the border with Green Hills to the first residents property line.
  • So why should you care – This is not just a dispute between neighbors. This is issue impacts the entire community.  If the TESD builds the fence as we think they are planning, it will negatively impact all of Chesterbrook, cost the township money and is inconsistent with the Chesterbrook master plan.

Let me give you some background:

  • In 2002 the TESD presented a plan to build 5 fields and a parking lot on the RC zoned lot between VFMS and Chesterbrook. This plan had many significant issues and could not be built as presented.  But more importantly at this time the township was developing Wilson Park and there was some view that the school district should provide fields for students and the township should provide fields for the sports leagues.  From the residents perspective it’s the same kids in different uniforms.  After discussion the township formed a committee consisting of members of the township staff, planning commission, school board and residents to work out a plan.  Which we did and which was built and documented.  The legal agreement between the CCA and TESD, documented during the Zoning Hearing Board’s Public Hearing when the special exception was granted is the result of this process.
  • Let me read some highlights from 2002.
  • We do not know the school board’s view on this agreement, they will not return my calls or emails and have directed their attorney not to work with our attorney. But based on the last Facilities Committee Meeting we do know they moved the fence 600 feet away from the residents after receiving letters from our attorneys.  So maybe they are starting to take this seriously.

What are the issues?

  1. The fence will block community access to the playing fields. In 2002 the planning commission required the TESD to add parking to the VFMS lot to accommodate people who would be using the 4 new fields.  This fence will block the path from the parking to the fields.  People will either have to park on Chesterbrook Boulevard or the township will have to provide alternate sites for the sports teams.  How are you going to pay for 4 new multipurpose fields?  The TESD has made it very clear we should expect the gates to be locked except when students are going to and from school.
  2. The walking paths will be blocked so residents can’t walk to Gateway, Wilson Park and St. Isaacs. These paths are part of the original Chesterbrook Master Plan.  Again, back in 2002 the TESD was required to rebuild the walking path so residents could pass by the school … why would you let them block these paths now?  If there isn’t an alternate route for residents to get around VFMS they will walk on school property.  The school board has said they will direct the schools to call the police when unauthorized people are on school property, so are they really going to call the police when some resident is walking to Wilson Park or St. Isaacs?  Why would we create this issue? Police time is valuable and there is at least one easy fix, just build a short connector path behind the football field between the exiting sidewalk and the existing walking path.
  3. We think their plan calls for a fence to nowhere in the woods. Besides being silly since it will be parallel to an existing fence around the field closest to VF road, so that they are just fencing in the trees, it violates the provision that calls for the woods to be undisturbed.
  4. Finally, we believed the school board’s attorney when he said “the district will be legally bound” and “any material change in that plan we understand we have to come back before this board”… there has to be some integrity a process sanctioned by the Supervisors back in 2002.

So we would like you to tell the TESD to honor their commitment from 2002 and then implement the same process we used last time by creating a group consisting of residents, staff and officials to resolve this quickly and reasonably.  We are parents and are not against student safety we just want a plan that makes sense.

Fencing at Valley Forge Middle School is on the move: Plan now includes a “Zig Zag Fence to No Where”.

Chain_Link_FenceThe TESD Facilities Committee meeting was held on Friday, April 10 at 2 PM.  Although the agenda was available on the TESD website for a week, there was no mention of the Valley Forge Middle School fencing project. With the ongoing fencing discussions with the District, township and residents, it was odd that there was to be no discussion of the matter.  When we showed up for the meeting, we were surprised to learn that the VFMS fencing project was added to the agenda. No one was notified of the last minute addition – not even the adjacent Green Hills property owners most affected, the “abutters”.

When I asked about the last minute change in the agenda and lack of notification, Facilities Chair Pete Motel referred my question to Art McDonnell for the “policy” answer.  According to McDonnell, the Board can change the agenda has much as they want and anytime they want – that’s the policy. McDonnell added that the District was not sure if they would have a statement on the fencing (and apparently only decided minutes before the start of the meeting!).

Interesting that with 7 of the 9 school board members and Supt. Dan Waters all in attendance at the Facilities Meeting that it is the Business Manager who describes the District’s policy. Why do we need to pay for a Superintendent (and we currently have two – Drs. Waters and Gusick) or elect a School Board, when we have a Business Manager making so many of the District’s decisions?

Pete Stanton, Green Hills resident and abutter to VFMS property, was in attendance at the meeting and provided the following comments. (Pete, is the one who suggested the ‘green line’ location for the fencing at VFMS – click here to see the map of the project with the green line indicated.)

The Facilities Committee met on Friday April 10 and offered a counter proposal for the VFMS fencing project. As an affected homeowner, I was pleased to see at least some concessions made, but, in reality, I think there is much left to be desired in the new proposal.

Here is the quick version of the new proposal:

-no fencing in front of abutting homes; Instead, 6 foot chain link following green line plan on upper fields.

  • 4 foot fencing all along VF Rd. by track up to Walker (fence on school side of current sidewalk)
  • 4 foot fencing running down VF Rd extending to northern border woods.
  • 4 foot fencing extending into woods at northern border, zig zagging through trees, ending at a residents outer property line, well within view of their home.
  • “enhanced signage” at locations TBD on or near the school borders. Facilities Committee will meet with Abutting households at date TBD to get input on these signs.

More importantly perhaps, there was much that wasn’t addressed by the new proposal. For example:

-nothing in writing or indication that the 2002 agreement between CCA and TESD would be amended to reflect the new TESD proposal.

-A connector path is not being planned on the upper field after the rest room kiosk that allows easy pedestrian access to the sidewalk along VF Rd. The Facilities Committee chairman has repeatedly said that they “reserve the right” to lock the gates at some point in the future during school hours. I think this locking will be done sooner than later without a new accommodation, which is what the new connector path (approx. 80 yards long by 4 foot wide) will provide.

-under the revised plan, the woods will definitely not be “Undisturbed” as expressly promised in the 2002 agreement … so this would be a violation of the agreement, unless an addendum to the Special Exception is agreed upon.

In my opinion, Tredyffrin Township needs to realize that what is being proposed is far from a satisfactory outcome for the residents of Green Hills and Chesterbrook. The Township needs to actively intervene and disallow any potential violation of the 2002 Special Exception.

It’s imperative that as many residents as possible go to the Tredyffrin Townships Supervisors meeting on April 20th to express the position to them that the School District has to honor the 2002 agreement. Again, this requires the School District to get in in front of the Zoning Hearing Board to get an amendment to the 2002 Special Exception agreement that my homeowners associations can agree to. Until such agreement is reached, this is still an active issue. Please encourage anyone else in Chesterbrook that you know to attend as well … it isn’t just a Green Hills issue; it’s an issue for all the residents.

Did the School Board actually think that the concession stated to a handful of people at a Facilities Committee meeting to move the fence was somehow going to end the debate?

The Facilities Chair Pete Motel continues to state and re-state that the District does not have to go before the township’s Zoning Hearing Board – that VFMS is District property and that they can do what they want with it.

Unlike the fencing at the other District schools, the fencing at VFMS is unique – the property consists of two parcels with different zoning and a legal agreement with the adjacent community.  The 2002 Special Exception by the Zoning Hearing Board set the parameters for TESD with Chesterbrook Civic Association and Green Hills Association – it would seem that any changes to that agreement would require review and updating.

This ‘new’ plan from the District does have the fencing out of the backyards of the abutters and moves the 6-foot fencing to behind the fields. (This will be the first 6-foot fencing at any of the eight schools.) However, the fencing will run the length of Valley Forge Road in front of the VFMS and into the woods that is shared with Green Hills.  Rather than ending the fencing at the woods, the fencing goes through the woods and will turn into the Chesterbrook community.  I asked if the District intended to take trees down in the woods – the response was no, that the fence would zig zag around the trees!  To be clear, the zig-zagging of the fencing will abruptly stop at the end of the woods at an abutter’s property line.  The fence will not connect to another section of fencing … the “fence to nowhere”.

If the handful of audience members who attended the Facilities Committee meeting are to believe what was stated – no further discussion is required with the township on the VFMS fencing, no approvals are required, no amendment to the 2002 Special Exception is needed. When asked if this decision to change the plans required a full TE School Board approval, the answer again was no.  In other words, the District can do whatever it wants at VFMS because the agreement was meaningless and implies that there are no deed-restrictions on the property.

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Tonight the District has a Finance Meeting (6:30 PM) and a Budget Workshop (7:30 PM) at Conestoga High School.  Click here for the agenda. Although the outsourcing vendors for the District’s aides and paras was on the last Finance Meeting a and the last School Board Meeting agendas, it does not appear on tonight’s agenda.

How are the 73 full-time aides and paras supposed to make a decision by May 1 on whether to go part-time (to remain a District employee) or go with an outsourcing company when they don’t know who the outsourcing company is or the benefits … ? 

Valley Forge Middle School … Do Fences Make Good Neighbors?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joel Greenberg

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

Chesterbrook fence 1 Miller-Stanton fence

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

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

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

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

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

The Final Curtain for Genaurdi’s in Chesterbrook . . . Tomorrow at 6 PM

Maybe it’s because I live in a 300-yr. old house or maybe it’s because I’m getting older . . . but I don’t handle change very well.  I find certain kinds of change can be unsettling and almost depressing.

A couple of friends had mentioned stopping by Genuardi’s in Chesterbrook this week to say good-bye to staff and to have a final look so yesterday I stopped by the store.  As I walked to the front door, the floral lady was leaving the store with a cart full of floral accessories.  I asked her if she was going to another store, she said no and further remarked, that at her age no one wanted her. She thought she would just stay home, play with the grandchildren and catch up on her reading.

As I entered the store and walked the aisles, it was a  very eerie feeling.  Aisles that would normally be overflowing with product and people now were just empty.  I’m guessing that about 80% of the shelves and counters were cleared in anticipation of Saturday’s closing.  The pizza guy told a customer he could make him a cold sandwich but the heating elements had been disconnected so he could not prepare any hot foods.  The deli had a couple of items left and the sushi chef was making up final orders.  Workmen were dismantling shelving and taking down signs.  I stopped by a cashier to wish her well . . . she told me that it was her last day, she was leaving Genuardi’s after 15 years.  It was my understanding that the employees had been offered jobs at other stores but she explained that only part-time positions were offered; no one received an offer of full-time employment regardless of years of service.  I have to believe that Mr. Genuardi who started the chain in the 1920’s would be none too pleased with the treatment of these employees. 

Genuardi’s in Chesterbook will officially close its doors tomorrow at 6 PM – Manhattan Bagel is having a send-off for the employees at 7 PM. 

I guess I could feel better about the closing of Genuardi’s if I was confident that this shopping center would rise as Phoenix from the ashes.  But something tells me that it’s going to be a long time before we see a new tenant in this space.  Will the Rite Aid, Subway and others be far behind . . . ? 

This is not intended to be negative but rather a realistic view of what may likely (or rather unlikely) happen to the Chesterbrook Shopping Center. A real ‘sign of our times’ in our own backyard. 

For those that have lived in Chesterbrook and the immediate area for a long time, maybe you want to stop by in the next 24 hours before Genuardi’s closes their doors. 

Genuardi’s Closing . . . 3-1/2 weeks and counting . . . Questions Remain

Many of us have been distracted by the excitement of recent opening of Wegmans grocery store.  However, in about 3-1/2 weeks, the Chesterbrook community and its neighbors (me included) are going to be faced with the stark reality of the closing of Genuardi’s grocery store.  Citing economic reasons for the closing by the owners of the store (Safeway), the announced closing date is August 21.

Last month when I discussed Genuardi’s closing and the effect that it might have on the Chesterbrook community, it was met with some criticism. But I think over the last 30 days since the owners announced the store’s closing,  the impact of the closure has begun to set in; there has been a growing concern by members of the Chesterbrook community relating to several issues. For those residents living in Chesterbrook that do not have access to cars, Genuardi’s closing may present a negative impact on their health and economy without easy access to a local full-service grocery store.  I have received several emails from retirees who depend on Genuardi’s (and also the drug store which is rumored to be the next to close) for their shopping needs as well as medical needs.

I know some bristled when I questioned whether a large empty store in a shopping center could have an adverse affect on local housing values.  From a long-range standpoint, it would probably be a reasonable guess that an empty anchor store in a residential community shopping area is unlikely to ‘increase’ the value of neighboring properties.  We can hope that the shopping center continues to be completely maintained while the space remains vacant and available for lease.

In addition to concern about the loss of a convenient Chesterbrook grocery store and the effect that Genuardi’s closing may (or may not) have on property values, there has been an undercurrent of scuttlebutt on the overall future of the shopping center (not just the grocery store space).  I received the following email this morning, which prompted this post: 

Good morning Pattye,

I found your June 22nd article about the Genuardi’s closing very informative. I sent it to a friend of mine who remains insistent that the Shopping Center has been sold to a developer who will be turning it into some kind of retirement center. I tried to google that info but came up empty. Can you offer a definitive answer to this issue? There is a dinner bet at stake…lol.

Thanks.

Rumors continue to swirl that Chesterbrook Shopping Center has been sold to a developer and the property will be re-designed as a retirement center.  At the July Board of Supervisors meeting, township manager Mimi Gleason was questioned about this rumor.  Her response was that she knew of no sale of the property, and further stated that the township had not been approached with a proposed land development project for the property.

I contacted the leasing agent for Chesterbrook at Centro Property but my call has not yet been returned.  Their website indicates that Genuardi’s space of 38,502 sq. ft. is available for lease.  I reviewed the floorplan of Chesterbrook Shopping Center on Centro’s website and counted the total number of rental units in the Chesterbrook Shopping Center as 42 separate units.  I then counted those units that are indicated as ‘available for lease’ and the number was 19.  Nearly one-half of the available units in the shopping center are now available for lease,  including Genuardi’s.  With the addition of Genuardi’s grocery store to the list of ‘available for lease’ units in Chesterbrook Shopping Center, my guess is that greater than 50% of total square footage in the shopping center is now empty.

With an approximate 50% occupancy rate in Chesterbrook Shopping Center (after Genuardi’s closes) I think that there is need for real concern.  For those of you who live in one of the villages of Chesterbrook, how do you feel?  Where does the Chesterbrook Civic Association stand on this?  Is there any kind of pro-active movement by the residents to help turn the commercial area of Chesterbrook around? 

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