land development authority

Sometimes Life Surprises You and the Right Thing Happens . . . the Planning Commission to Retain Land Development Authority in Tredyffrin!

Following tonight’s Board of Supervisors meeting was a scheduled public hearing to discuss land development authority.  The Board of Supervisors were holding this initial public hearing to consider an ordinance amendment to change final land development authority from the Planning Commission to the Board of Supervisors.  As the public hearing began, chair of the supervisors, Bob Lamina excused himself to leave for the airport. With Lamina’s departure, vice chair Paul Olson became ‘acting’ chair in his absence.  Lamina’s last words as he departed were that he anticipated that this was an initial public meeting and the discussion would continue in the fall. 

Lamina reminded the audience that a final decision on land development authority would not take place until after the review and approval of the township sidewalk ordinance. (Some have suggested that the timing of this land development authority ordinance change is directly related to the St. Davids Golf Club sidewalk decision by the Planning Commission).

Township Manager Mimi Gleason offered a background of why the land development authority was given to the Planning Commission some twenty-five years ago.  Interesting to note that Tredyffrin Township is the only municipality where land development rests with the Planning Commission versus the Board of Supervisors.

Prior to tonight’s public hearing, Supervisors Kichline, Heaberg and Richter met with supervisors from Upper Merion and Easttown Townships to discuss how they handle their planning authority process.  Kichline reported that these other municipality supervisors suggested that there was not ‘right or wrong’ way to handle land development authority.

Audience members were invited to comment on the proposed land development authority change. Trip Lukens, vice chair of the Planning Commission offered remarks from last week’s Planning Commission meeting.  At their meeting, planning commissioners had decided rather than create an ordinance change; they would wait until the outcome of tonight’s public hearing.  Other residents in attendance offered their opinion.  One after another, they all said the same thing in a variety of ways . . . “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it”.  Former supervisor Judy DiFilippo also spoke in favor of leaving the land development authority with the Planning Commission.  In other words, all those in attendance who spoke, completely supported the Planning Commission retaining final land development authority.

After audience members had all spoken in favor of leaving the land development authority process ‘as is’ with the Planning Commission, Supervisor DiBuonaventuro declared that he did not understand ‘why’ the Board of Supervisors was having this discussion and that as a supervisor ‘he’ was not interested in taking back land development authority.  DiBuonaventuro said that there were many other important issues facing the township that needed his attention and that Planning Commission should retain this authority.

After much discussion on the topic from each supervisor, Supervisor Kichline made a motion to end the public hearing on the planning authority ordinance change; Supervisor Donahue seconded the motion.  Left in charge of the public hearing by Chairman Lamina and probably realizing that he was losing the battle for further discussion, Supervisor Olson suggested the supervisors just wait on this vote and have further discussion.  Supervisor Richter agreed with Olson but the other supervisors were committed to forcing a vote to end the public hearing. 

With a roll call vote, Supervisors Kichline, Heaberg, DiBuonaventuro and Donahue voted to leave the land development authority with the Planning Commission and Olson and Richter voted against the motion. This vote removed any further discussion on the topic.

I believe that Bob Lamina was the driving force behind this ordinance change to place final land development authority back in the hands of the Board of Supervisors  . . .  and he left for the airport thinking that this public hearing tonight was nothing more than an ‘initial’ meeting with further discussion to come. He  could never have expected this outcome!

Sometimes life surprises you and the right thing happens . . . tonight was one of those occasions! The Planning Commission retains final land development authority and a round of applause goes to supervisors Kichline, Heaberg, DiBuonaventuro and Donahue for ‘doing the right thing’!  And the planning commissioners should feel good with their overwhelming vote of confidence from the residents!

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Are Tredyffrin Supervisors Politically-Motivated over Land Development Authority . . . Is it all about St. Davids Golf Club?

I attended Tredyffrin’s Planning Commission meeting last night. The last agenda item was “Draft Amendment to the Subdivision & Land Development Ordinance”.

As one who understands the importance of community volunteers, it saddened me to listen to the discussion on changing final land development authority from the Planning Commission to the Board of Supervisors.  The Planning Commissioners are experienced, skilled and committed residents who spend countless hours in this volunteer position. They are dedicated to working together, collaborating with developers, architects, builders, etc. and making nonpartisan decisions.  These volunteers are now discouraged and confused by the motive of the Board of Supervisors to take away their final land development authority. Regrettably, many believe that the desire by some supervisors to take back land development authority is politically motivated and personal.

One commissioner reported that there has only been one unhappy applicant in his many years of service on the Planning Commission. Unfortunately, the one unhappy applicant is St. Davids Golf Club.  Three times this applicant came to the Planning Commission and each time the commissioners voted in favor of the land development plan, including the sidewalk. 

The Planning Commissioners are not necessarily opposed to the Board of Supervisors taking final land development authority; but all seemingly question the ‘timing’ and the political motives behind the need to change the ordinance now.  Although there is a liaison assigned to the Planning Commission, it was reported they have rarely seen their supervisor-assigned liaison attend a meeting.  Which begs the question, if there is no interest in attending the Planning Commission meetings, why do they want to take on the entire job of land development review?

Do the supervisors have any idea the length of time that land development reviews will consume?  Although Mimi Gleason pointed out that the township is about built out, as the economy improves there will be an increase in commercial redevelopment plus the significant Paoli Transportation Center land development project on the horizon.  The Planning Commission has experienced professionals volunteering their time – planners, real estate developers, attorneys, etc.  Our Planning Commissioners are volunteers with the specific skill set and willingness to commit the necessary time to the process . . . do we have supervisors with similar profiles?

Planning Commissioner Bob O’Leary has concern that changing the land development authority to the Board of Supervisors is going to increase staff time and the staff is already understaffed.  If the ordinance is changed, an applicant will first go to the Planning Commission for review and then the applicant will have a second review by the Board of Supervisors.  This double review procedure would be for both preliminary and final land development approval; doubling the work and expense of township staff.  In addition, doubling the efforts of all land development applicants.

Tory Snyder, Planning Commissioner and a member of the Sidewalk Subcommittee will be making the Sidewalk Subcommittee’s presentation on Monday to the Board of Supervisors.  The supervisors know that the sidewalk at St. Davids Golf Club is on the subcommittee’s map as a recommended site — part of the Green Routes Network.  Three supervisors, Phil Donahue, Michele Kichline and EJ Richter were members of the Sidewalks Subcommittee.  All three supervisors attended the last meeting of the subcommittee and voted in favor of the committee’s recommendations, including St. Davids Golf Club sidewalks.

Planning Commissioners believe that the Board of Supervisor’s desire to change the land development authority is directly related to their St. Davids Golf Club decision.  As Bob Whalen, chair of the Planning Commission said, ‘We voted on the issue three times unanimously; we didn’t vote on what was political, but voted on what was right”.  Whalen said that he does not intend to waste any more time on the ordinance.  He views the proposed ordinance change as a “Slap in the face to the Planning Commission.  I know the difference between right and wrong.”

I hate the thought that the Sidewalks Committee and the time and efforts of the volunteers was nothing more than a charade . . . all leading up to the St. Davids Golf Club decision and Board of Supervisors change to the land development authority.  No doubt, some supervisors expected the Sidewalks Committee recommendations would echo their desires; making it easier for these supervisors to deliver good news to the country club. These supervisors probably thought that by handpicking the members of the Sidewalks Committee would somehow guarantee the appropriate outcome.

I salute the members of the Sidewalks Committee who engaged community members through public meetings, accepted input from interested citizens, created maps and conducted a township-wide survey to get a consensus on sidewalks, bike trails and paths needs throughout the township.  However, their thorough, thoughtful and independent analysis did not deliver the outcome desired by some supervisors.

 Another group of volunteers ‘on hold’ is the Sidewalks, Trail, and Path (STAP) committee.  If there is sufficient support from some members of the Board of Supervisors, the time and talents of these volunteers may also no longer be needed.

There is a curious element to the land development authority discussion that cannot yet be calculated.  I was told by several sources that the current vote is 3-3 among the supervisors on the question of land development authority.  Three supervisors want the authority to remain with the Planning Commission and three supervisors want the final authority to shift to the Board of Supervisors.

However, here’s the interesting twist . . . The Board of Supervisors will appoint a supervisor to fill the supervisor vacancy prior to the March public hearing on the land development authority.  With the current supervisor vote count at 3-3, that new supervisor could be the tiebreaker! Wonder what supervisor candidates John Bravacos, Kristen Mayock, Eamon Brazunas and Mike Heaberg have to say about the land development authority?  I think that would make for a very interesting question at next week’s candidate interviews.

In summary, the Board of Supervisors meeting on Monday, January 24, 7:30 PM is important.  Please plan to either attend or watch from home.

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What do these things have in common . . . St. Davids Golf Club, Planning Commission, BAWG, Sidewalk Subcommittee, land development authority, STAP, Board of Supervisors?

What do these things have in common . . . St. Davids Golf Club, Planning Commission, BAWG, Sidewalk Subcommittee, land development authority,  STAP, Board of Supervisors?

In looking at Tredyffrin’s Planning Commission agenda for tonight’s meeting, I discovered an interesting item listed under ‘new’ business — “Draft Amendment to the Subdivision & Land Development Ordinance”. 

To understand the Planning Commission agenda item, you will need to recall a Board of Supervisors motion from this past December.  At that meeting, Supervisor Bob Lamina questioned whether the Planning Commission should continue to have land development authority in the township . . . he thought that authority over land development should revert to the supervisors (as was the case many years ago).  However, to make an ordinance change requires a public hearing, which is scheduled for February 28.

Here’s the significance of the Planning Commission agenda item . . .  the Planning Commissioners are expected to draft the amendment that will relieve them of their land development authority and give that authority to the Board of Supervisors.

There are more connections. How many of you remember the community discontent and hostility over St. Davids Golf Club and the recommendation contained in the BAWG report suggesting the township accept $50K in lieu of building sidewalks.  Even though there was a signed contract between the township and St. Davids requiring the sidewalks, the Board of Supervisors pushed through a motion to return the $25K escrow money to the country club; removing the sidewalk requirement.  After much media publicity, many letters to the editor, accusations of Home Rule Charter violations, claims of deal-making and resident outrage, the Board of Supervisors reversed their earlier decision.

The reversal of the Board of Supervisors decision to return the escrow money had an interesting caveat attached.  St. Davids escrow money and the decision to require the construction of sidewalks was put ‘on hold’ pending the outcome of the Sidewalks Subcommittee recommendations.  At the same time the supervisors reversed their decision, they created a Sidewalks Subcommittee whose goal was to adopt a formal sidewalk policy to recommend to the Board of Supervisors.  Members appointed to the joint subcommittee were supervisors (Phil Donahue, EJ Richter, Michele Kichline), Planning Commissioners (Tory Snyder, Bob Whalen, Trip Lukens) and representatives from Sidewalks, Trails and Paths ‘STAP’ (Sean Moir, Beth Brake, Jim Donegan).

If you are interested in the St. Davids Golf Club-BAWG report background, go to the top right of Community Matters and enter the words, St. Davids in search.  Or for a particularly passionate post, read St. Davids Golf Club Decision Reversed but, . . . Was There Full Disclosure, Transparency, Deal-Making and the corresponding 68 comments. (click here for that specific post).

The Sidewalks Subcommittee began meeting last spring.  I attended most of the meetings and was impressed by their efforts. The committee engaged community members through public meetings and accepted input from interested citizens.  They created maps and conducted a township-wide survey to get a consensus on sidewalks, bike trails and paths needs throughout the township.  Their analysis was thorough and thoughtful.

At their last meeting (which I attended), the Sidewalk Subcommittee summarized their findings in preparation for a presentation at the upcoming Monday, January 24 Board of Supervisors meeting.  Chair of the Sidewalk Subcommittee and a Planning Commissioner, Tory Synder will make the presentation and deliver the committee’s recommendation to the Board of Supervisors.

Are the supervisors going to take the recommendations of the Sidewalk Subcommittee or will their efforts be ignored?  Will the St. Davids sidewalk requirement currently ‘on hold’ affect the supervisor’s decision to accept the Sidewalk Subcommittee recommendations?  Will the signed contract between the country club and the township remain intact?

Supervisor Michele Kichline is an attorney and served on the Sidewalks Subcommittee . . . Michele knows contract law; how will she guide her fellow supervisors?

Here’s the million-dollar question – Does the proposed ordinance change to remove land development authority from the Planning Commission to the Board of Supervisors have any relationship with the St. Davids sidewalk issue? Remember, the Planning Commissioners required the sidewalks as part of country club’s land development project.

Do some of the supervisors think that if they take back land development authority, they can override the Planning Commissioners decision to require St. Davids to build the sidewalk?

Why change the land development ordinance now? Just coincidental timing or is the ultimate goal to release the country club from their contractual agreement with the township.

The St. Davids Golf Club sidewalk business was a very hostile time in our local government’s history. When elected officials go behind a closed-door and make decisions, the perception can be as bad as the fact.  Let’s keep the door open!  Here is one resident who does not want to see another similar watershed moment . . . the citizens of Tredyffrin deserve better.

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Important Dates:

  • Planning Commission Meeting, Thursday, January 20, 7 PM
  • Board of Supervisors Meeting, Monday, January 24, 7:30 PM
  • Land Development Ordinance, Public Hearing, Monday, February 28, 7:30 PM
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