Glenhardie

Tredyffrin Board of Supervisors Approve Wayne Glen’s Conditional Use application, 5-2

Wayne Glenn aerial map

Wayne Glen, NW corner of Swedesford & Old Eagle School Rds.

Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors approved the Conditional Use application for the Wayne Glen project by a vote of 5-2 at the special Board of Supervisors meeting last night.  The proposed mixed-use development of townhomes and carriage homes plus a commercial office development is located on the Northwest corner of the intersection of Swedesford and Old Eagle School Roads in the Glenhardie section of Tredyffrin Township.

Wayne Glen’s developer Arcadia Tredyffrin LLC will be the first developer in Tredyffrin Township to utilize the Trout Creek Overlay District zoning which requires increased stormwater management and flood control in the flood-prone Trout Creek area.  The plan is for 108 residential units and a 240,000 sq. ft. office building.

Arcadia filed its application in April 2013 and many, many meetings have taken place in the intervening two plus years – with the Planning Commission, Glenhardie citizens and homeowner groups, residents, supervisors, township staff, experts, etc.  The township held seven public hearings regarding the proposed project in 2015, where citizens with standing, and experts for the township and developer, provided testimony.

Based on the testimony received by residents and experts, the conditional use permit required additional conditions beyond those imposed by the township’s Planning Commission. Many of the concerns raised by residents during the process were addressed in the compromise contained in the approval of the conditional use application, including the increased minimum road width of 24 ft. from 20 ft.

Knowing that you can never “please all the people, all the time”, there were a couple of Glenhardie residents, Jacqueline and Richard Kunin, who expressed their displeasure at the supervisor’s vote to approve the conditional use.  The Kunin’s have passionately stated their opposition to Wayne Glen throughout the process, claiming that the stormwater and sink hole issues are not adequately addressed by the developer’s plan. They have also continued to cite concern that the proposed project may be located on a sacred burial ground of Revolutionary War soldiers and Indians.

The vote of 5-2 by the Board of Supervisors to approve Arcadia’s conditional use application came down along political party lines – the five Republicans (Mike Heaberg, Kristen Mayock, EJ Richter, Paul Olson and JD DiBuonaventuro  all voted in favor of the conditional use application and the two Democrats (Murph Wysocki and Mark Freed) voted against the application.  Both Wysocki and Freed delivered lengthy remarks as to why they could not support the project. Wysocki used the words “unsuitable”, “unsound”, “unsound” and “unsafe” in describing the Wayne Glen project and Freed claimed that Wayne Glen was “ill-advised” and that the property was “not suitable” for this type of development.

According to Arcadia’s website, the developer states, “With cutting edge techniques for integrating stormwater management and urban design, Wayne Glen will alleviate existing problems with streambank erosion, poor water quality, and flooding.”

The next step in the Wayne Glen project is for Arcadia to submit their land development plan to the Planning Commission.

Monday, January 6: Tredyffrin BOS Organizational Meeting & Public Hearing for Wayne Glen Conditional Use

Tredyffrin Township’s first Board of Supervisors meeting of the 2015 is tomorrow, January 5, 7 PM at the township building. The organization meeting includes the election of chairman and vice chairman of the BOS.   Although an annual election is held for the board’s leadership roles, typically these positions are held for two years.  Mike Heaberg and Kristen Mayock served in the chair and vice chair positions, respectfully, during 2014 – the election will determine if they continue in their current roles for 2015.

Following the 2015 organizational meeting, is the public hearing for the Arcadia/Wayne Glen conditional use application.  At the corner of Old Eagle School and Walker Roads in the Glenhardie section of the township, Arcadia Tredyffrin, LLC is seeking conditional use approval to construct 108 residential units in the R-1 (Residential) District and approximately 240,000 sq. ft. of non-residential building that is currently in the O (Office) District although in the P (Professional) District at the time of application filing. With recommendation from the township’s planning commissioners, the Wayne Glen project has now moved to the Board of Supervisors for their approval.

If history dictates the future, the Wayne Glen development project will have a crowd of local Glenhardie residents in attendance at the meeting. Unlike the widespread community support that developers have enjoyed with the Chesterbrook redevelopment plans, Wayne Glen has seen its share of spirited debate. The issue for the residents close to the proposed development project is how the developer will manage the stormwater situation, as much of this area is prone to regular flooding.  The Wayne Glen project is located in Tredyffrin Township’s Trout Creek Overlay District and the developers believe that their plan will utilize design techniques that will alleviate the erosion along the stream banks and flooding issues and improve the poor water quality.

In addition to the stormwater issues, some residents have expressed concern about the proximity of the Wayne Glen project to the Valley Meeting House cemetery and the possibility that this could be the burial grounds of early Continental Army soldiers. Arcadia’s owner Joe Duckworth is acutely aware of the historic nature of the property. He has hired a history consultant to work with the engineers and plans to use ground-penetrating radar in the development project. Duckworth has experience with burial grounds at the site of the Constitution Center in Philadelphia and is committed to dealing with any historical remains found at Wayne Glen responsibly.

Trout Creek Stormwater Overlay District Ordinance Passes 4-3

I guess ‘7’ was the magic number for the Trout Creek Stormwater Overlay District.  Following the Board of Supervisors meeting last night, the seventh public hearing was held for the Trout Creek Stormwater Overlay District ordinance.  With a standing room only crowd, a dozen or more residents spoke against the ordinance. Their arguments primarily targeted the stormwater issue, feeling that the language of the ordinance was not strong enough.  There is also concern about the enforcement and maintenance of the stormwater basins by the township.  Another concern cited by a couple of residents was the possible impact the development of the Richter property may have on historic preservation, believing that the property may have served as a burial ground in the 1700’s.

Laurie Elliott, a Glenhardie resident, spoke in favor of the Trout Creek Stormwater Overlay District and the development of the property by Arcadia Land Company.  Elliott supports the development believing that this is a step in improving the stormwater issues.  We know that it has taken over a hundred years for the stormwater problem to get to this level and it is going to take a major effort by the township, developers and residents to reduce damage caused by flooding and runoff.

Arcadia Land Company’s plan for the 36 acre Richter property site includes townhouses and carriage houses on the 26 acres zoned residential.  It is unclear how the 10 acres that is zoned ‘professional’ will be developed.  Jason Duckworth, president of Arcadia spoke at the public hearing, assuring residents that the development plan would include necessary infrastructure to help the stormwater problem.  According to Duckworth the cost for the required infrastructure and stormwater basins is $4 million; a cost absorbed by the developer versus Tredyffrin’s taxpayers.  However, some residents believe that rather than helping the current stormwater situation, the development of the Richter tract will actually increase the problems.  Arcadia Land Company may have taken a big step forward with the supervisor vote last night but I think they may be facing an uphill battle with some of the residents.

After seven public hearings, at nearly midnight the vote to approve the Trout Creek Stormwater Overlay District ordinance was 4-3.  Supervisors Mike Heaberg, Michelle Kichline, John DiBuonaventuro and Kristen Mayock voted in favor and Phil Donahue, EJ Richter and Paul Olson opposed the ordinance.  As I previously said, if the supervisors touted the C-1 zoning change as an economic development move, I did not see how it was possible that they could have voted against the Trout Creek Stormwater Overlay ordinance.  From an economic standpoint, the development of the 36-acre Richter site will clearly benefit the township’s financial coffers.  However, I remain unconvinced about much revenue will be generated from the assisted living facility on the 1-acre commercial site at Jimmy Duffy’s.

Although I am pleased that so many residents were involved in the Trout Creek overlay ordinance, I am not sure why there needed to be seven public hearings.  Except for maybe the development of Chesterbrook, I wonder how many times there have been that many public hearings on a specific topic.  On the other side, the C-1 ordinance change only had one public hearing, one extreme to another.

I do have a lingering concern in regards to the Trout Creek Stormwater Overlay ordinance. With the approval of this overlay district, which will presumably encourage redevelopment projects (beyond the Richter project), there appears an open issue on the enforcement and maintenance of the stormwater basins. From prior public hearings, we have learned that there is currently not sufficient township staff to review the existing stormwater basins.  Going forward, how will this be handled?

I asked Tom Colman, the Glenhardie resident who co-chaired the citizen-working group with township supervisor Phil Donahue, about his thoughts on the Trout Creek Stormwater Overlay ordinance process and its outcome last night.  Coleman was pleased that so many residents were involved and attended the meeting.  He remarked, “I am immensely proud of the work done by all in educating the community and providing remarkable research to the process.”   I don’t speak for others, but certainly on a personal level, it has been extremely educational to better understand the township’s stormwater and runoff issues and I thank all community members that volunteered their time and expertise in this process.

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

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

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

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

  Trout Creek Overlay Ordinance (TCOO) Petition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Discussion Continues on Tredyffrin’s Proposed Stormwater Overlay District Ordinance

A continuation of the Public Hearing on the Trout Creek Stormwater Overlay District ordinance followed this week’s Board of Supervisors Meeting.  Click here for the June 2012 revised ordinance.

A group of 35 resident volunteers, have been working with the township staff and the potential developer of the Richter tract, Joe Duckworth, on revisions to the proposed new zoning ordinance.  (For earlier discussions and specifics of Duckworth’s proposed plans for the property, enter Richter in the search tool on the home page of Community Matters.)

As part of the proposed overlay district, large storm water basins would be included on the Walker Road side of the property – access to the property would be from Old Eagle School and Swedesford Road.  Although Duckworth has not submitted official plans, his proposal contains twin carriage houses and townhouses on the property for this property.

The resident volunteers, the Working Group, in conjunction with Duckworth and township staff, has significantly updated the original ordinance.  Tom Colman presented comments from the Working Group, and Jeff Kosterich offered specific comments from the storm water sub-group.   Based on their remarks, Colman and Kosterich suggest that although the updated draft ordinance is more satisfactory, residents feel that further modifications required before it should pass.

The Trout Creek Stormwater Overlay District ordinance would be applicable to all areas in the township located in the Trout Creek Watershed.   The Working Group was composed primarily of Glenhardie residents.  The Richter tract is located in the Glenhardie neighborhood and because Duckworth’s development would most affect this section of the township, they are the ones with the louder voices on this issue.  Although different zoning changes required, in some respects, the proposed storm water overlay district ordinance is no different from how the proposed C-1 zoning change which would allow an assisted living facility in the Daylesford section of the township.  Although both the proposed Trout Creek Stormwater Overlay District and the C-1 assisted living zoning change are tied to specific projects (Richter tract and Ed Morris’ assisted living project) should these zoning changes be approved, they are applicable to all the township.  My point … all residents owe it to themselves to be ‘up to speed’ on these two important proposed zoning changes, regardless if you live in the Glenhardie or Daylesford areas of the township.

As the designated representative for the Working Group, Colman asked that three specific issues be considered in conjunction with the proposed Trout Creek Stormwater Overlay District ordinance.

  1. Accountability Measures:  The residents would like assurances that once the storm water basins are designed and implemented that there is accountability for ongoing maintenance and continued functionality.  They suggest that the township adopt an official policy for accountability to prevent the risk to residents of failed storm water basins after installation. It was reported that Duckworth has agreed to an accountability policy that would be applicable to all developers in the Trout Creek Stormwater Overlay District.  I agree that there should be a township policy (and enforcement); otherwise why bother to require storm water basins in any future land development plans.
  1. Communication/Notification Policies, Practices and Procedures on Zoning-impact Matters:  The conclusion from the Working Group members was that the Township is too lax on communicating information to those residents most impacted by zoning issues.  If you recall, many of the Glenhardie neighbors were not notified of the proposed Richter plan development project which caused much unnecessary angst in the community.  Similarly, we have seen the same lack of communication in the proposed assisted living project and C-1 zoning change in the Daylesford neighborhood of the township.  When there is a neighborhood directly impacted by a zoning change there should be specific guidelines for notification and an explanation of the process for the residents.  Many township residents are not aware of the processes required for land development plans and zoning changes that may be required for projects in the township.  Communicating the Township process and the relationship of the Planning Commission, Zoning Hearing Board, supervisors and township staff could be helpful to residents.
  1. Storm Water Action Team: The Working Group suggests that the township develop a plan to address the township’s storm water problems.  As Colman explained, “Too many areas of Tredyffrin are enduring repeated damage, hardship and risk to life and property when we get even modest rainfall.  It’s time to identify specific, measurable objectives, timelines, resources, and responsibilities to address this problem in a proactive way … This is not an issue like shade trees or pothole repairs; lives are at risk.  We need a real plan, and we need it now.”

Traditionally there has been a real reluctance in this township to increase taxes, so it was interesting to note that the Working Group offered their own suggestion for funding storm water solutions.  On a personal note, I don’t know how much longer the ‘no tax increase’ mantra can continue around here … due to increasing expenses and decreasing revenues, supervisors have been forced in recent budgets cycles to cut township staff  (among other expense reductions) in an attempt to avoid a tax increase.  As residents, we have watched as township services have continued to decline.  I use Wilson Farm Park as an example … once the jewel of the township and an award-winning municipal park design, it is very sad to see how overgrown it now looks. Wilson Farm Park’s current condition is no doubt a direct result of the personnel and funding cuts to the Public Works department in recent Township budget cycles.

In the case of the proposed Richter development, the developer (Duckworth) indicates a willingness to pay for the cost of necessary storm water improvement.  However, the storm water problem and costly solutions is more significant in the Township than could be resolved through the development of the Richter tract. The Working Group suggests that the approximate $250K yearly tax revenue from the proposed Richter tract development go towards the funding of a substantial bond issue.

Personally, I would like to see the supervisors create a resident volunteer group to review the idea for a township storm water utility.  Operating much like an electric or water utility, the storm water utility would collect fees related to the control and treatment of storm water that could be used to fund a municipal storm water management program in the township.  Based on Jeff Kosterich’s remarks that a number of engineers and storm water professionals living in the Glenhardie community volunteered their expertise on the storm water sub-committee, why not continue to tap into these valuable volunteer resources?  Our township is rich in its wealth of accomplished, educated residents; why not utilize volunteers  to help solve the storm water funding  problem.

The next step for the Trout Creek Stormwater Overlay ordinance process is a review of the ordinance update by the Planning Commission.  My understanding is that the ordinance then moves to the Chester County Planning Commission for review and comments.  Following the county review, the ordinance returns to the township supervisors, presumably in time for the July Board of Supervisors meeting for further discussion and possible vote.

Removal of Wawa and Apartment Building from Richter Development Plans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corbett’s Property Tax Reform Throws a Curve Ball to School Districts . . . Limits on Act 1 Exceptions May Cause Angst to School Boards

School vouchers, Marcellus Shale fees and transportation funding may have been temporarily sidelined in Corbett’s budget but not so for property tax reform. 

When Gov. Corbett inked the budget this week, school districts across the commonwealth collectively received a curve ball. Included in Corbett’s budget was property tax reform, which makes change to the Taxpayer Relief Act of 2006 (Act 1) that could effect future school board’s financial decisions.  

With school districts struggling with significant reduction in state spending, many used Act 1 exceptions in their budget decisions, which permit tax increases without allowing voters the right to veto. However, with Corbett’s property tax reform, the school districts will not be permitted to increase property tax above the rate of inflation without voter referendum. Corbett suggests that the property tax reform will give the power to the taxpayers to decide whether they want a property tax increase to fund a particular program.  A reduction in allowable Act 1 exceptions will force school boards to make their case to the voter for approval of a property tax increase.

Prior to the amendment, Act 1 included 13 permitted exceptions including new construction projects, debt, pension and special education costs – school boards could increase property tax using these exceptions without a voter referendum.  The Act 1 exceptions will continue to include special education spending and payments to the state pension system but no other exceptions will be permitted without voter approval.  

It is my understanding that if a school district has a building project underway, the previous Act 1 exception for construction will remain in place for the length of the project.  However, the amendment to Act 1 does not permit an exception for future constructions projects without voter approval. So where does the Act 1 reform legislation leave TESD’s planned transportation garage/storage building on Old Lancaster Ave.? Although the project is only in the initial architectural development stages, the Facilities Committee may need to rethink their plans or be prepared for voter input.  No longer qualifying for an Act 1 exception, this proposed new construction project would require a voter referendum.  In addition, because the transportation garage is not educational programming, I would suggest that voters might not show their support for a property tax increase for this type of project.

By removing so many of the Act 1 exceptions, school boards will be limited in their ability to increase property taxes without voter referendum.  On the other hand, you could say that property owners in Pennsylvania will have a more active roll in what school boards do with their money. Gaining voter support at the polls will require public convincing by school boards. Do you think that this is the way for taxpayers to receive property tax relief?  I also wonder if some school districts will opt for creative responses to the Act 1 changes, such as forming their own charter schools.

On the subject of property taxes but slightly off topic, the T/E school district tax bills arrived in the mail.  Having just read somewhere online that the average school taxes paid in Pennsylvania is $1,200 – I am struggling to see how that is possible. 

My husband and I own an investment property in Glenhardie Condominiums in Wayne — a small 1-bedroom condo.  According to the tax bill, our school taxes for the 1-bedroom condo are $1,232 — equivalent to the average school tax bill in the state. It is interesting that our 1-BR condo represents in T/E the model for the ‘average’ price of real estate across the state. So . . .  $1,200 in school taxes buys you a 1-BR condo in the T/E school district – wonder what that same $1,200 in average school property taxes buys you in other parts of the state?  A quick search online indicates that Pittsburgh is ranked as one of the ‘best buys’ in America.  For the price of a 1-BR Glenhardie condo, one could buy a nice 4-BR house in Pittsburgh! 

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