Chesterbrook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next round on Valley Forge Middle School fencing project: TE School Board hires safety consultant

Fencing April 2015

What’s that proverb about a “bad penny always coming back”?  After last week’s TE School Board meeting, that could be a fair description of the Valley Forge Middle School fencing project.

Residents who attended the District’s June 12th Facilities Meeting expected the fencing discussion at Valley Forge Middle School to finally end.  But instead, the public learned that after many, many meetings and months of legal bills for the District (i.e. taxpayers), the Chesterbrook Civic Association and Green Hills homeowners, Board President Kris Graham’s proposed hiring a safety consultant for the Valley Forge Middle School.

The Board has repeatedly cited the 2013 safety report by Andy Chambers (the former Tredyffrin Township Police Chief) as the rationale for building fences around the District’s eight schools. However the public was not provided input for the safety study and the Board, citing safety reasons, never permitted the public to see the report.

Although District residents have not read the Chambers’ safety report, the Board claimed that its safety suggestions included fencing all schools. Taxpayers paid (“not to exceed $11,500”) for the safety report two years ago, so did the Board decide to spend more money on another study (to focus specifically on VFMS).  During the Facilities Committee meeting the Board was quick to point out that the District would send out a RFP for the VFMS safety consultant, which they admit was not done before they hired Chambers in 2013.

During the committee reports at the June 15 regular school board meeting, Dr. Motel (chair of the Facilities Committee) presented the following update,

The Facilities Committee met Friday, June 12 at the district offices on West Valley Road and the meeting was open to the public.

We discussed again the possible installation of additional fencing at Valley Forge Middle School. The committee has decided after many meetings of which this issue was discussed to obtain a second opinion from an additional safety consultant who will review the Valley Forge Middle School site specifically and make recommendations as to whether or not additional fencing at the site is advisable and if so what it should look like and where it should be placed.

The process will be an RFP will go out this summer for a school safety consultant. The selection of the safety consultant will begin at the next committee meeting in public with public input. I want to clarify that this means no new fencing will be installed at Valley Forge Middle School this summer.

Fast forward three months to last week’s school board meeting and the safety consultant discussion – a discussion which was troubling on many levels:

  1. Initially the hiring of the safety consultant appeared as part of the school board’s consent agenda but was later removed to allow for discussion.
  2. Contrary to what the Board previously stated on at the Facilities Committee meeting on June 12 and at the June 15 School Board meeting, no RFP was released.
  3. The Business manager Art McDonnell contacted three safety security companies and asked them for a proposal.
  4. McDonnell ‘picked’ the company, National School Safety & Security Service at a cost of $15,500.
  5. No District signed contract for National School Safety’s services. Responding to Board and resident questions, McDonnell suggested that a contract was not necessary and pointed to the company’s proposal on the TESD website. (The proposal is found on pg. 177 of the Sept. 21 school board agenda}.
  6. Residents asked the cost of the other 2 safety security companies. McDonnell did not have the exact figures but thought one was around $4,000 and the other $20K.
  7. National School Safety’s proposal contains no dates for the deliverables. Their consulting fee of $15,500 is for pre-visit phone calls and review of existing documents, 3 day visit which includes 1-1/2 days of interviews and site visits, 1/2 day of debriefing and presentation to committee and written report of recommendations.
  8. No public meeting on this topic is included in the company’s proposal.
  9. McDonnell stated that earlier fencing correspondence, emails, etc. would be given to the consultant. However, when further questioned on this topic, McDonnell acknowledged he was not sure how long the District kept emails!  (What is the policy on email retention?)
  10. When pressed on the need for the safety consultant to receive public input on fencing, etc., McDonnell referenced a proposed public meeting for Thursday, Nov. 19 with a preliminary safety report from the consultant to be given on Friday, Nov. 20 at the 2 PM Facilities Committee meeting.
  11. What is the value of resident input if the public meeting is held less than 24 hrs. before National School Safety delivers their preliminary report at the Facilities Committee meeting.
  12. Several residents and Board members questioned McDonnell regarding the ‘scope’ of the consultant’s work without the benefit of an RFP. How would the company know the District’s expectations?
  13. In the end, the Board offered that residents could send emails about the fencing project to schoolboard@tesd.net and they would forward to the safety consultant. For the record, Art McDonnell is the public information person and all emails to the school board must go through him first.

I have attended many school board and committee meetings but the discussion to hire a safety consultant for Valley Forge Middle School had to be one of the most troubling I have ever witnessed.  The decision to hire the safety consultant lacked process …there was no RFP outlining the District’s expectations as the Board previously stated  – no dates for deliverables – no contract – no resident input provision, etc.  Even with all the questions and uncertainty the Valley Forge Middle School security consultant, the Board voted 9-0 to hire National School Safety & Security Services at a cost of $15,500.

Where’s the P.R.O.C.E.S.S.?  The public is repeatedly told that the ‘real work’ goes on at committee meetings. Really?

Question: To fence or not to fence at Valley Forge Middle School? Answer: No for Election Year, but 2016 is another story!

 

I attended the TE School District Facilities Meeting on Friday.   Thinking that the fencing at Valley Forge Middle School discussion would be put to bed finally, the audience learned instead that the never-ending saga would continue…

After months and months of legal bills on the District’s side (i.e. taxpayers) and on the part of the Chesterbrook Civic Association and Green Hills residents, the Board has decided the District needs another school safety study, which will focus on fencing at VFMS, before they can make a decision. After TESD President Kris Graham read her statement proposing the hiring of a safety consultant for the Valley Forge Middle School fencing project, other Board members embraced the suggestion.  What?

As background regarding the school safety study – In January 2013, the District hired Andy Chambers (the former Tredyffrin Township Police Chief) as the safety consultant to review the safety of the eight schools.  Initially Chambers’ hiring was included on a school board consent agenda.  Facing claims of Sunshine Act violation, the District solicitor Ken Roos recommended the ‘reconsideration’ of Chambers at the following Board meeting.  Ultimately, Chambers was hired with a 7-2 vote with former school board members Anne Crowley and Rich Brake citing ‘lack of transparency’ in their dissenting votes.   The public was told that Chambers contract was ‘not to exceed’ $11,500.

The Board has repeatedly cited the safety report as the rationale for building fences around the schools – it certainly provided the basis for why the five elementary schools were fenced last summer. The public was not provided input for the safety study and we were not permitted to see the safety study when completed (the Board cited safety reasons).   The District has denied right-to-know requests for the study.

The taxpayers paid for the District’s safety study two years ago, which claims to suggest that all District schools need to be fenced.  Why is the 2013 safety study not applicable for VFMS?

Now many, many meetings and legal and architectural fees later, the Board has decided that the District needs to spend more money for a new safety study – this study to focus specifically on Valley Forge Middle School fencing.  It should be noted that the Board was quick to mention that this time the District will send out an RFP to find a safety consultant (something they admit was not done before they hired Chambers).

I’m sorry but I just don’t understand.  Why is the District going to spend more money on the VFMS fencing project by hiring another safety consultant?  The uncertainty for the neighbors continues, as the Board was quick to say that when this new study comes out in early 2016, it may still require fencing VFMS. Here’s a question for the Board — why not have Police Superintendent Anthony Giaimo and the Tredyffrin police conduct the safety study for the District?  Certainly Giaimo’s background and experience would make him an excellent choice to review school safety.

Three school board candidates attended the Facilities Meeting (Fran Reardon, Easttown, Region 3 and Tredyffrin West, Region 2 candidates Michele Burger and Ed Sweeney).  For the two open school board seats in Tredyffrin West, Region 2, the Primary election results had Burger (D) and Sweeney (R) receiving the highest number of votes respectfully – with TESD Board President Kris Graham in third place. There’s little doubt that the ongoing VFMS fencing issues cost Graham votes.  I wonder if she thinks that by spending taxpayer dollars for another safety study and delaying the fencing project until 2016, will translate to a higher vote count in November.

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The District’s mega-million proposed Maintenance & Storage Building received much discussion at Friday’s Facilities Meeting.  This proposed maintenance building and the adoption of the 2015/16 Final Budget are scheduled for Priority Discussion at the school board meeting on Monday, June 15. Board discussion and public comment opportunity. 7:30 PM, Conestoga High School

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 Board’s idea of ‘compromise’ at Valley Forge Middle School … Green Hills homeowners to get 6-foot high chain link fences in their backyards instead of previously announced 4-foot fences

Green Hills residents met with TE School District representatives regarding the proposed Chesterbrook fencing project last night and learned that compromise isn’t in the school board’s vocabulary.

Representing the TE School District at the meeting were school board members Pete Motel, Kevin Buraks, Liz Mercogliano and Kris Graham in addition to Art McDonnell, Dr. Gusick, attorney David Falcone of Saul Ewing, Tom Daley of Daley & Jalboot Architects and the District attorney Ken Roos. Motel, Buraks and Mercogliano are all on the Facilities Committee and School Board President Kris Graham attended in the absence of Virginia Lastner, the fourth member of the Facilities Committee.

In addition to the homeowners, attorney Brian Nagle of MacElree & Harvey represented Chesterbrook Civic Association and Michael Gill of Buckley, Brion, McGuire & Morris represented Green Hills Homeowners Association at the meeting.

With the proposed chain link fencing planned extraordinarily close to the abutting properties, residents appealed to the school board for a reasonable discussion of the project. However, rather than finding common ground and understanding, the affected property owners learned that their backyard fencing would not be 4 feet high as previously stated at the District’s Facilities Meeting. No, in a surprise announcement, the Green Hills residents learned the District has changed the height of the chain link fencing in their backyards to six feet!

It seems to me that these homeowners are being targeted – the Valley Forge Middle School fence project calls for the two sections of fencing along Chesterbrook Boulevard and Valley Forge Road to have four foot high fencing whereas the Green Hills residents are facing 6 foot chain link fences in their backyards. I don’t’ think any of the other school fencing projects have 6-ft. high fences, do they? You have to wonder what the District uses as their criteria for 4 ft, 5 ft. or 6 ft. fencing.

I thought that you needed a variance for 6 foot fencing in Tredyffrin Twp and we know that that the District previously withdrew their variance request. However, the District sidesteps the ZHB application process by putting a 4-ft fence along Valley Forge Road, which is technically the front of the school. According to Tredyffrin Township Zoning Ordinance 208-119, the back and rear yards at Valley Forge Middle School (which includes the Green Hills-TESD property line) only requires a permit for the 6-ft. fence not a variance. (Note – as of late today, the township had not received a fence permit request from TESD).

Green Hills resident and abutting property owner Pete Stanton attended the meeting and provides his summary below.

Summary of meeting 3/25/15 with representatives of the TE School Board and concerned citizens of Green Hills and Chesterbrook regarding proposed VFMS Fencing project.

– No agreement was reached over fencing. The status is that the School Board is still determined to place the fence at or near their property line. They plan to notify residents in the near future exactly where the line of the fencing will go.

– In a surprise turnaround, the Facilities Committee Chair Peter Motel announced the fence facing Green Hills homes would be 6 feet high. Previous Facilities Committee discussions that I attended had indicated the fence near our properties to be a four foot fence. No explanation for this change was offered. The Contractor is making an application for a fencing permit to Tredyffrin Township.

– The fencing architect from Daley and Jalboot reinforced the idea that the primary goal of the fencing on their property line was border identification. The School Board had evidently not considered any other option to fencing to “mark” their borders, such as signage.

– Attorneys for Green Hills, Chesterbrook Civic Assn and the School Board’s attorney as well as their outside Counsel were all present. There was some back and forth questioning, but nothing substantive at this time.

– The invited guests presented a wide variety of commentary … the excess expense of the fence in time of fiscal crunch for the school District, the security flaws inherent in their planned fence placement and deployment, and the general disruption to all residents in cutting off the continuous access to the Rural Conservation (RC) zoned areas and paths to the fields, St Isaac’s etc.

– An alternative fencing line was proposed by a citizen (non-Green Hills resident) as a “compromise” which places the fencing well out from the homes but still cuts off access to the paths. This proposed alternative is certainly an improvement to the District’s plan, but may wind up costing the District more (due to needed new path construction) and in my opinion does not go far enough in allowing unfettered access to the 20.7 acre RC zoned open area. I have color coded the 2 alternative proposals for consideration. Please see the attached map showing my desired fencing line, (the green line plan), the Citizen’s “compromise” fencing route (red line plan) along with the pathway needed for that plan (new path is blue line). Click here for map of VF Middle School Fencing Plan.

– Green Hills and local Chesterbrook residents and the 5 “abutter” families seem clear that they want unfettered access to the 20.7 acre open area behind their homes as they have for decades. By placing the fence as a continuation of the four foot fence already in place on the upper fields closest to the school, the School District will enhance student safety. By being able to visually monitor the entire fenced area directly from the School plant, continue to allow resident path access that they have utilized forever, and save the District thousands of dollars in fencing costs… All these arguments taken together are compelling for the District to alter their current plans and strongly consider the one that I am offering here. With the “green line plan”, everyone wins.

It would seem that supporting the District’s proposed chain link fencing project is not a particularly smart political move for anyone seeking reelection to the school board. Board President Kris Graham (the only incumbent seeking reelection) and her unfavorable position on the Valley Forge Middle School fencing plan could pose a political hurdle for her in November.

It is my understanding that some members of the school board have agreed to a walkabout at the Green Hills fencing location with the five affected homeowners. I still contend that if all the board members would take the time to walk the abutting neighbor’s property, they would agree to a compromise discussion.

Here’s hoping that there is still time for reasonable people to make reasonable decisions on the Valley Forge Middle School fencing project.

Security fencing for Valley Forge Middle School, TE Middle School and Conestoga High School – TE School District seeks variance to construct 6-foot fence

fencing 1During 2014, 5-foot high chain link fencing was installed around TESD’s five elementary schools – Beaumont, New Eagle, Valley Forge, Hillside and Devon. Sandy Hook and other school shootings pushed the issue of school security into the limelight and the elementary school fencing project was one of the security upgrades recommended by the District’s Safety Committee.

The construction of the elementary school security fencing project was not without controversy. Residents opposed the District’s decision to fence the elementary school for a variety of reasons. Some suggested that the fencing would make it more difficult for children to evacuate in emergencies — concern that they could become trapped inside the property by the fencing and that the fencing could slow emergency aid. Others cited inconvenience; aesthetics and monetary cost (approximately $220K) in their opposition to the fencing and some questioned if the District obtained the required building permits. In the end, the elementary schools received their security fencing last year.

Apparently, the District’s fencing project was not contained to the elementary schools. A surprise to some, security fencing is planned for Valley Forge Middle School, TE Middle School and Conestoga High School. At the October 27, 2014 TE School Board meeting, the school board approved Daley & Jalboot’s 2015 infrastructure implementation fee proposal on the consent agenda. Included in the architect’s project was Project #1405, the installation of perimeter site fencing at the three schools. Daley & Jalboot’s fee is $$8,600 and they estimate the construction costs at $236K.

The security-fencing project of the middle schools and high school is out for bid and construction is set to start June 24 with completion by the start of school in September.

Unlike the elementary school fencing project in 2014, the District has a hurdle to get over before they can move forward. The District’s plan to construct a 6-foot chain link fence at Valley Forge Middle School and TE Middle School requires a variance from the Zoning Hearing Board. Tredyffrin Township’s Zoning Hearing Board will hear these two appeals tonight at 7 PM and residents are encouraged to attend and provide comments.

The proposed chain link fencing at Valley Forge Middle School may be a challenge for the Zoning Hearing Board. The school is in Chesterbrook, a planned community of 28 villages, and each of the villages is independently managed by homeowners associations and governed by specific bylaws. The Chesterbrook village of Green Hills (single family homes) is adjacent to Valley Forge Middle School. The plan for VFMS fencing is along Valley Forge Road and on the shared property line with Green Hills. Because the proposed chain link fencing is not consistent with the homeowner association bylaws of Green Hills,  and an earlier agreement between these homeowners and the school board regarding development, the approval for the variance may not be a given for the school district.

Tredyffrin: Open for Business . . . and Closed

The economy is taking its toll on businesses across America and unfortunately, locally we are not immune.  There is such joy when we see signs of growth and development in the area retail and restaurant market but a sense of sadness when we see the closed signs.  It is particularly tough if you know the owner and developed a relationship with one of these entrepreneurs who dared take the journey in spite of the economic warning signs.

Such is the case for me with Jake’s Frozen Custard in the Paoli Village Shoppes and owner Missy Shaw.  With enthusiasm and Midwestern charm, Missy opened Jake’s 10 months ago and this week a ‘closed’ sign hangs on the door.  Missy’s smile and good humor was contagious . . . her spirit (and her frozen custard) will be missed! 

If Jake’s closing has you looking for respite from the summer sun, remember other local favorites Whirled Peace and Rita’s Water Ice in Paoli and Handel’s Ice Cream in Berwyn.

Another Paoli business that opened with fanfare last year but recently closed it doors  — Doggie Style, a boutique-type pet supply shop in the Paoli Shopping Center . . . don’t know if it saw it’s first anniversary.

However, there are some openings in Paoli to report – Shoppe Flare, specializing in gifts and monogrammed items, opened on Lancaster Avenue across from the Paoli Village Shoppes.  Re-Max Realty on Lancaster Avenue is now sharing space with a new Dunkin’ Donuts store. The newly opened store with a drive-through window is only a couple of blocks from the existing Dunking Donuts.  According to the manager of the new store, the same person owns the two locations. Until the lease runs out on the old store across from the train station next year, both locations will be open.

If you have driven down Rt. 252 in Devon lately, you will notice much activity in the Valley Fair shopping center.  The construction on the new McKenzie’s microbrewery is well underway.  Retrofitting the old Charlie Brown’s restaurant, McKenzie’s is planning a September opening — we’ll have to wait and see if they meet their planned timeline.  In the same shopping center, the new Mealey’s furniture store is also moving forward in their construction.

The long empty box store that housed Linens & Things in Devon may have a new tenant.  The interior of the store has recently been gutted and new checkout counters installed . . . no more specifics, although a hopeful reader suggested maybe a Bottom Dollar grocery store.  Speaking of the Bottom Dollar grocery store chain, remember for a while the Chesterbrook residents thought that Bottom Dollar was headed for the empty Genuardi’s space.  Although the Bottom Dollar deal fell through other rumored tenants have surfaced, including a farmer’s market and recently a Movie Tavern.  A fun concept with a full bar and food menu (plus movies) this idea for the Genuardi’s space is also ‘dead on arrival’.  Apparently, the prospective Movie Tavern developer did not think that Chesterbrook shopping center provided sufficient visibility.  (If you are interested, a Movie Tavern recently opened to rave reviews in Collegeville).

There are new rumors swirling for the old Duffy’s catering property in Daylesford.  If you recall, a controversial high-density mixed use development plan by developer ARC Wheeler failed to win public support in 2007 and the property has remained vacant and undeveloped.  Apparently, there is new discussion for the 13-acre site – nothing firm yet but I have heard assisted living or retirement center development plans.

As of last month, the Whole Foods in Devon is now selling beer for take-out and in their new Mile Post Pub.  Looks like a new Starbucks location for Devon . . . Township planning commissioners reviewed a sketch plan for the construction of a Starbucks and drive-thru in the Devon Village Shopping Center at last week’s planning commission meeting.

A different kind of ‘closing’ occurred in Mt. Pleasant on July 21.  Ruled accidental by Tredyffrin police, a fire totally destroyed the playground equipment at Mazie Hall Park.  An early estimate of $60,000 in damage, the township playground is insured.  Looking ahead to a timeline for repairs and a new ‘opening’ for the local residents, a meeting was held last night with township staff, supervisors and Mt. Pleasant representatives.  Sean Moir, chair of Parks and Recreation attended the meeting and provided the following update from the meeting:

There was a meeting tonight between township officials and Mt. Pleasant community leaders to discuss the Mazie B. Hall tot lot fire. Paul Olson, Michelle Kichline, Mimi Gleason, Dean Wilkins, and myself were representing the township.

The township has filed an insurance claim . . . The Park Board has been asked to come up with replacement options for the community. Once the options have been compiled, they will be presented to the community and we will try to provide the best affordable solution.

It’s hard to predict the timing since we don’t know when the insurance company will get back to us.

Here’s hoping that the insurance company can move quickly to settle the case and get the playground at Mazie Hall Park ‘open for business’.

Community Matters – in and around Tredyffrin

Community Matters . . . in and around Tredyffrin

In one of the biggest property deals since the start of the global financial crisis, the Australian company Centro Properties Groups has agreed to sell its 588 US shopping malls to private equity giant Blackstone Group for $9.4 billion.

The local connection – Centro owns Chesterbrook Shopping Center and Valley Fair Shopping Center! I assume the existing retail leases in these shopping centers will pass with the transfer of sale.  Many folks are looking forward to McKenzies Brew House restaurant plans for the old Charlie Brown location at Valley Fair Shopping Center.  Here’s hoping that Blackstone will breathe new life into Chesterbrook Shopping Center and find a tenant for the empty Genuardi’s grocery store.  And let’s not forget that this corporate sale could mean significant transfer tax revenue to the school district and the township!

In case you missed this one . . . in order to make shelf room for new products, the Pennsylvania State liquor stores is having special discount sale, starting today.  Approximately 400 items have been marked down to clearance prices until they are gone.

Last night was the Board of Supervisors Meeting. Notes of the evening included Mike Heaberg’s swearing in as new supervisor by Judge Jeremy Blackburn; recognition of the 300th anniversary of the historic Baptist Church in the Great Valley and certificates of appreciation for volunteer service to Grace Keffer, Bob Haver and Molly Duffy.

By Board of Supervisors appointment, a Sidewalk Subcommittee was formed in March 2010 to look at resident’s wants and needs of sidewalks in the community.  The process included public meetings, resident sidewalk survey, observations and discussion and Sidewalks Subcommittee chair Tory Snyder presented the findings and recommendations last night at the Board of Supervisors Meeting. (Here is a link to the recommendations). Surprising some of us in the audience, supervisor Phil Donahue made a motion for the board to accept the Sidewalk Subcommittee recommendations and move it to the Planning Commission to create a draft ordinance.  Michelle Kichline seconded the motion and it passed unanimously. Hat’s off to the supervisors for this progressive, proactive show of support for the community!   (As an aside, the Sidewalk Subcommittee Green Routes Network recommendation includes St. Davids Golf Club sidewalk in the plan.)

In addition to crafting a draft ordinance in regards to the Sidewalk Subcommittee recommendations, the Planning Commissioners is drafting an amendment to the Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance to give the Board of Supervisors final land development authority.  Although there is a Public Hearing on land development authority scheduled for March 21, it was agreed there would be no final decision on that matter until after the sidewalk ordinance is resolved.

I was notified of a an updated ‘Best High School in Pennsylvania’ list and am pleased to report that Conestoga High School continues to receive high marks.  Each year, “Newsweek” magazine ranks the nation’s top 1,600 high schools–that’s only six percent of all public high schools in the country. This ranking helps parents and educators set standards for themselves. In 2010, 33 high schools from Pennsylvania, including Conestoga High School, made the list. These schools received high marks from both “Newsweek” and “U.S. News & World Report.”

According to the eHow.com 2011 update, “Conestoga High School is ranked as the No. 502 high school in the nation by “Newsweek” and as No. 79 by “U.S. News & World Report.” It offers more Advanced Placement courses than any other high school, public or private, in Pennsylvania, and had 37 National Merit semifinalists in 2010. . . “   Congratulations Conestoga High School and Tredyffrin-Easttown School District!

Speaking of Conestoga High School . . . the curtains go up tonight on the student production of Phantom of the Opera.  The show will run March 1 – 6, click here for ticket information. Phantom is one of my all-time favorite musicals –  best wishes to the cast & break a leg!

That is it for now.  I look forward to your thoughtful comments and please email me at tredyffrincommunitymatters@gmail.com if you have news or thoughts to share.

Community Matters Mentioned in Philadelphia Inquirer front page article!

I looked cover to cover in Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer for the article on Genuardi’s, but nothing.  However this morning the article appears on the front page of today’s paper!  An interesting article, the writer explains the dynamics of the supermarket world, in particular the downturn of Genuardi’s grocery chain and the threat that Wegmans poses to local supermarkets.  I was so excited to see ‘Community Matters’ get a mention – it’s validating, especially because there are some who may question the value (or influence) of a blog. 

With a root canal scheduled for later this morning, I will take this as a good omen for the day!

Genuardi’s is closing another supermarket

By Kathy Boccella
Inquirer Staff Writer

Here we go again.The venerable Genuardi’s supermarket chain is closing another store. This time it’s the Towamencin Village Square market in Lansdale, which will shut down Saturday, nearly 20 years to the day after it opened. Lately, it seems as if every month brings a new Genuardi’s closing. Last spring, the Voorhees store went out of business, followed by one in the Edgemont Square Shopping Center in Newtown Square in July and two in August – in Tredyffrin’s Chesterbrook community and the Glen Eagle Shopping Center in Concord.

The problem for Genuardi’s is that Philadelphia is “overstored,” said Richard George, a professor of food marketing at St. Joseph’s University. From Walgreens to Wawa to Wegmans, a bounty of food retailers is making it hard for traditional stores to stay afloat.

“There are too many stores selling food in too concentrated an area,” said Jeff Metzger, publisher of Food Trade News, a food-industry publication.

Genuardi’s spokeswoman Maryanne Crager agreed that the competitive array was staggering. “At one time a drugstore might have one little aisle with chips. Now they sell yogurt, cheese. Everybody is trying to get a piece of the pie, and the pie is only so big,” she said, citing such nontraditional food sellers as Target and CVS.

With the latest closing, Genuardi’s now has 31 supermarkets in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, down from 39 when monster food company Safeway Inc. bought the chain from the family of founder Gaspare Genuardi and his wife, Josephine, in 2001. The Lansdale store, whose lease expires at the end of the month, was closed because it was not as profitable as expected, Crager said. The company will try to find openings at other Genuardi’s for the store’s 45 employees, as it has done at previously shuttered markets, but not everyone is able or willing to relocate, she said. She would not say how many workers had been laid off.

The job outlook, not surprisingly, is not great. Wendell W. Young IV, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1776, said grocery stores had slowed or stopped hiring to offset lower profits.

Many of the new stores coming into the region are lower-end markets that pay minimum wage. And most supermarket employees are part time, working 25 to 30 hours a week, he said.

While Genuardi’s is downsizing, another chain is cementing its reputation as a local category killer. Wegmans, whose massive take-and-go prepared-food sections are magnets to busy suburbanites, opened a 130,000-square-foot megastore in Malvern in July, bringing to six the number of regional Wegmans, three of them in the greater King of Prussia area. Wegmans and other upscale niche retailers such as Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods are muscling out middle-of-the-road supermarkets such as Genuardi’s, say the experts.

“Pathmark is closing, Super Freshes are closing. It’s that big middle that are neither the low-price guy like Wal-Mart and Save-A-Lot, yet don’t have the cachet of Wegmans and Trader Joe’s,” George said. “So people say, ‘Why do I shop there?’ ”

At Genuardi’s in Lansdale, few were shopping on a recent afternoon, despite a 20 percent-off sale that had already cleaned out many aisles. Employees looked as grim as pallbearers.

“It’s very, very sad,” said customer Nancy Demetrius, a mother of four who lives around the corner from the supermarket and says she shops there once or twice a week. “They’re very nice people here, very helpful.” She was picking up milk and chili fixings with her 3-year-old daughter, Camryn. The family did most of its shopping at Genuardi’s, she said, even renting movies at the Red Box out front. “At parties, if we needed rolls, soda, we’d run to Genuardi’s,” she said. She said she would miss the quality of the meats and produce. “Excellent, excellent.” Her children will miss the free cookies from the bakery.

The Lansdale area is a microcosm of the “overstore” phenomenon. There is a Super Fresh less than a mile away, although that, too, is closing, and an Acme and Giant nearby. A new ShopRite is expected to rise not far from Genuardi’s. Demetrius said she would probably shop at Giant. “It’s cheaper, but the quality is not as good,” she said. “You do what you have to do.”

Though the Lansdale store seemed robust to shoppers, other locations languished before finally going dark. The Chesterbrook Genuardi’s in Tredyffrin was “dated” and not maintained, said Pattye Benson, a Malvern bed-and-breakfast owner, who raves on her Community Matters blog about the gelato kiosk, 800 kinds of beer and large take-out section at the new Wegmans.

“Safeway took absolutely no interest in maintaining that store. . . . It just went downhill,” she said.

For many people, Genuardi’s was never the same after the corporate giant bought it from Gaspare and Josephine’s children, who transformed their vegetable garden in Norristown into one of the area’s most beloved businesses.

The company replaced many favorite Genuardi’s brands with Safeway products and downgraded two benchmarks of the Genuardi’s stores – produce and deli items, Metzger said. The Genuardi family “ran that store with terrific products and tremendous customer service,” said George. Safeway “lost sight of the customer,” he said. “Genuardi’s,” he said, “used to stand for something.”

Still, some Genuardi’s stores are now busier than ever and offer more locally grown produce, as Gaspare and Josephine did in the old days. Smaller than many other market leaders, between April 2009 and March 2010 Genuardi’s was the fifth-highest-grossing supermarket company in the region, with 38 stores and $983 million in sales. The leader was ShopRite, whose 67 stores earned $2.6 billion, according to Food Trade News.

Wegmans’ six stores had $364 million in sales, making it the sixth-largest in the area. Companies showing the biggest decline were Acme, which lost its number-one post after 32 years, Genuardi’s, and Giant.

Crager said Genuardi’s had no plans to close more stores but acknowledged the challenges for the chain. Referring back to her pie analogy, she said: “Some of the slices for some operators are getting smaller and smaller. Obviously when you get smaller . . . it becomes more challenging to operate.”

On the bright side, “We’re part of a much larger corporation,” she said.

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. 

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