Michelle Kichline

Paoli Transportation Center moves forward … Included in SEPTA’s 2016-17 Capital Program

The following comment and photo was posted on Facebook today by Chester County Commissioner Michelle Kichline  —

County Commissioner Michelle Kichline —

I was delighted to hear the news that SEPTA has announced its 2016-27 capital program proposal recently. Among its projects that have been deemed ready for the next phase of design is the Paoli Transportation Center, a project I have had the privilege of working on as a member of the Paoli Task Force. SEPTA’s 2016-27 capital program shows funding for Phase I of the project, moving us closer toward a start of construction in 2016, as well as funding for the project’s phases thereafter for the Darby Road bridge and a parking garage. Paoli is on the move!

A user's photo.
Coincidentally, last night was the Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust’s Spring Lecture Series.  Our guest lecturer Greg Prichard presentation was “Pennsylvania Main Line Train Stations of Tredyffrin and Easttown Townships”.  Greg spoke about train station architecture and history, mthys vs. reality, evolution and growth of the railroad in our area and how past (and future) restoration efforts helped the stations to endure.  Discussing the train stations geographically from east to west, his presentation ended with Paoli Train Station.  During the Q & A following the presentation, I was asked for an update on the Paoli Transportation Center and I really couldn’t offer any new information.
So, after I saw Michelle’s Facebook comment,  I found SEPTA’s 2016 Capital Budget, dated April 2015 was just uploaded online. Below is a status on Paoli Intermodal Transportation Center contained in the recently released document:
SEPTA capital 2016
According to this graphic from SEPTA’s report, the $36 million Phase I design is underway with construction to begin in 2016. Phase I makes the station ADA accessible and includes a pedestrian overpass, elevators and new high level platform.
It appears that the “Paoli on the Move” website has not been updated in a year (April 2014) – perhaps with this exciting news from SEPTA, the timeline on the Tredyffrin Township website can be updated. It does look like the Paoli Transportation Center is taking steps in the right direction!

Slate of Candidates Final for Tredyffrin Board of Supervisors and TE School District Races

If you are a candidate for the TE School Board or the Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors, Tuesday, March 10 marked the last day to circulate and file nomination petitions at Chester County Voter Services for Pennsylvania’s May 19, 2015 Primary Election.

TE School Board candidates must file a petition signed by at least 10 qualified voters of the school district for the political party with which the petition will be filed. Generally, school board candidates cross-file. To cross-file in a primary election (that is, to run on both parties), a registered Democrat or Republican must circulate a proper petition for the other party. The petition must contain signatures as previously mentioned. If elected on both party ballots in the May primary, a candidate will appear on both party ballots in the general election in November.

Between the Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors and the TE School Board, there are a total of nine seats available and of those nine seats there are only two incumbents seeking reelection. In addition, the current Tredyffrin Township Auditor Bryan Humbarger (R) is not seeking reelection. The candidates for Tredyffrin Township Auditor are Mary McCracken (D) and Lynn Shine (R).

For Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors, the Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee has endorsed the following candidates:

• District 1 East: Paul Olson *
• Supervisor at Large: Sean Moir
• Supervisor at Large: Trip Lukens
• District 3 West: Heather Greenberg
* Incumbent

For Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors, the Tredyffrin Township Democratic Committee has endorsed the following candidates:

• District 1 East: Tory Snyder
• Supervisor at Large: Elva Bankins
• Supervisor at Large: Lou Horvath
• District 3 West: Yolanda Van de Krol

In a review of the slate of supervisor candidates, there are some familiar names and some not so familiar names among the list. The District 1 East supervisor race has a re-match between Tredyffrin Township Planning Commissioner Chair Tory Snyder (D) and long-serving Republican supervisor Paul Olson, president of ANA Laboratories, Inc. If you recall in 2011, this particular Tredyffrin supervisor race was extremely close with Olson (R) receiving 1,331 votes and Snyder (D) receiving 1,318 votes. Only 13 votes separated the two candidates four years ago, it will be interesting to see what happens in 2015.

Besides Snyder, there are two other Tredyffrin Township Planning Commissioners seeking elected office – At-Large supervisor candidate Trip Lukens (R) and TE School Board candidate Ed Sweeney (R). Lukens, a principal at Lukens & Wolf, a real estate appraisal and consulting company ran with current Chester County Commissioner Michele Kichline (R) as at-large supervisor candidates two years ago but lost the election to Democrats Mark Freed and Murph Wysocki.

Another interesting twist in the 2015 supervisor candidate race is at-large candidate Sean Moir (R). Owner of Western Heritage Mapping, a historical mapping service, Moir isn’t new to the local campaign circuit. Moir previously ran as a Tredyffrin at-large supervisor candidate six years ago but as a Democratic candidate. I was on the Democratic ballot as an at-large supervisor candidate with Sean but following our defeat in 2009, I changed my political party status back to Independent whereas Sean’s path took him to the Republican Party.

New names to the Tredyffrin Board of Supervisor races includes candidates Heather Greenberg (R), Elva Bankins (D), Lou Horvath (D) and Yolanda Van de Krol (D). A quick Google search indicates that Greenberg is a CPA working as Director of Finance and Administration at ModSolar; Bankins is management consultant and leadership development coach and speaker; Horvath is Director of graduate online health services at St. Joseph’s University and Van de Krol is Vice President, Relationship Manager at Customers Bank.

Looking at the TE School Board, there are five open seats available this election cycle – two for Tredyffrin Region 1, two for Tredyffrin Region 2 and one for Easttown Region 3.

The Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee has endorsed the following candidates for the office of Tredyffrin-Easttown School Director:

• Tredyffrin, East – Region 1: Neal Colligan
• Tredyffrin, East – Region 1: George Anderson
• Tredyffrin, West – Region 2: Kris Graham*
• Tredyffrin, West – Region 2: Edward Sweeney

The Tredyffrin Township Democratic Committee has endorsed the following candidates for the office of Tredyffrin-Easttown School Director:

• Tredyffrin, East – Region 1: Roberta Hotinski
• Tredyffrin, East – Region 1: Todd Kantorczyk
• Tredyffrin, West – Region 2: Michele Burger
• Tredyffrin, West – Region 2: Alan Yockey

In addition to the Region 1 and Region 2 seats in Tredyffrin Township, Region 3 in Easttown Township has one seat available. Currently serving school board director Dr. Pete Motel (R) is not seeking reelection. Republican candidate for Region 3 is Kate Murphy and the Democratic candidate is Francis Reardon, owner of a local construction company.

Democrats on the ballot for Tredyffrin East Region 1 are Dr. Roberta Hotinski, a geoscientist at Princeton Environmental Institute and environmental attorney Todd Kanatorczyk, a partner at Manko, Gold, Katcher & Fox. Republicans opposing Hotinski and Kanatorscyk in Tredyffrin East Region 1 are Neal Colligan, a commercial mortgage banker at CKPP & Associates and Dr. George Anderson, Director of International Student Development at Valley Forge Military Academy. I am pleased that my friend Neal Colligan, a mainstay at regular school board meetings and finance committee meetings, is a candidate for the school board. A longstanding supporter of the District’s aides and paras, he has continually offered background and expertise on the District’s finances.

Currently serving as TE School Board President, Republican Kris Graham is seeking reelection to another term. Attorney with Wusinich & Brogan and current Tredyffrin Township Planning Commissioner Ed Sweeney (R) is running with Graham for Tredyffrin West Region 2. Opposing Graham and Sweeney are Democrats Michele Burger and Alan Yockey. You may recall, Michele Burger was front and center on the Valley Forge tennis court issue, helping to save them from demolition by the school district. Joining Berger for Region 2 is Alan Yockey, a retired IT consultant.

Here’s hoping that the focus of the local 2015 political campaign season is about the issues and the candidates that best represent the vision of the community. It’s important to know the person that you are voting for and whether or not the candidate best represents your views. It’s your school district and your township – make your vote count! Thank you to all of the candidates for stepping up to run for office!

Tredyffrin Township resident Michelle Kichline appointed Chester County Commissioner

With Republican Ryan Costello’s 6th District Congressional win in the November election, Chester County needed a new County Commissioner to fill his unexpired term.  According to Pennsylvania law, the Chester County Court of Common Pleas had to fill the vacancy with another Republican to finish Costello’s term, which runs through 2015.  The voters will elect a commissioner for a full 4-year term next November.

Michelle Kichline (R), along with five other Republican candidates, John Primus, Leon Spencer, Jr., Maureen Snook, Hudson L. Voltz and County Treasurer Ann Duke interviewed this morning with the judges of Chester County Court of Common Pleas for the Board of Commissioners vacancy. The judges made their selection and I am delighted to report that Michelle Kichline, attorney and former chair of Tredyffrin Township’s Board of Supervisors, is our new Chester County Commissioner!  Costello’s official resignation date is tomorrow December 9 and his Commissioner torch passes to Kichline.

It’s exciting to have a Tredyffrin Township resident represented on the Chester County Board of Commissioners!

Tredyffrin BOS discusses Town Center zoning changes and TESD finances discussed

As is often the case, last night’s Board of Supervisors meeting conflicted with the Finance Committee meeting of the School District.  I attended the Supervisors meeting as I was particularly interested in hearing about any Chesterbrook Village Center updates.

Prior to the regular BOS meeting, the supervisors held a public hearing on the proposed amendment changes to the Town Center zoning ordinance which would affect the redevelopment of Chesterbrook.  The 122,216 square foot shopping center lost its anchor store, Genuadi’s supermarket in August 2010.   With the departure of the 40,000 square foot grocery store, the Center saw a significant drop in foot traffic and began a downward spiral as the empty storefronts continued. The shopping center was sold at a receiver’s sale November 1 for $8.9 million to 500 Chesterbrook Boulevard, LP.  As someone who lives in the western part of the township, I regularly use travel through Chesterbrook and I look forward to seeing its redevelopment.

Lou Colagreco, attorney for the shopping center owner, offered eight suggested changes to the township’s Town Center zoning ordinance.  After much discussion from the supervisors and with opinion offered from audience members, there were a couple of sticking points that could not be satisfied.

Colagreco sought to decrease the parking requirement from 2.5 parking spaces to 2.25 parking spaces per townhouse, citing various national surveys and local development trends.  Although Colagreco offered neighboring municipalities have decreased their parking requirements, he found little support for this change from the supervisors and definitely not from the residents, many of which live in Chesterbrook. He also hoped to change the stormwater requirements and exclude decks as part of impervious coverage requirement.  Because of the severity of stormwater issues in the township, lessening this requirement also did not meet with a favorable response, particularly since these changes would affect the entire township, not just Chesterbrook.  After a couple of hours of discussion, the supervisors decided to send the suggested Town Center zoning ordinance changes back to the Planning Commission for further review and revisions rather than approving.

I am anxious for the redevelopment of Chesterbrook and look forward to seeing  the preliminary draft of the plan when it is available. The Town Center ordinance combines commercial and residential usage. Last night marked the last official supervisor meeting for supervisors Michelle Kichline and Phil Donohue; we thank them their commitment to the community and their public service during the last four years.  On Monday, January 6, Murph Wysocki and Mark Freed will be sworn in and join the Board of Supervisors.

Ray Clarke attended the TESD Finance Committee meeting and I thank him for providing his notes from the meeting.  I note that the school board is resurrecting the Public Information Committee which is great news.  If you recall, Debbie Bookstaber chaired this committee but after she left the school board, the committee was disbanded.  At that time, Betsy Fadem stated the committee was not necessary, as each existing committee would provide their own public communications.  But as we have seen during the last year, communication could be improved and I am grateful that Scott Dorsey is taking over this role to chair the committee.  Ray also mentions that the Board intends to have public discussion on the Affordable Care Act and its requirements.  The aides, paras and substitute teachers received a reprieve on this TESD jobs for one-year that runs until June 2014. To meet the ACA requirements will require the school district to offer affordable health insurance to all employees so this discussion should start soon rather than later on this topic.

Here are Ray’s notes:

A note before getting to the meat of last night’s TESD Finance Committee – some encouraging signs on the communications front.  The Public Information Committee has been resurrected, now under Scott Dorsey’s leadership.  The FC meeting was structured to facilitate community input (although the competing Township event limited participants).  And the Committee took steps to add back historical context to the monthly financial statements, so our analysis should become easier.  Time will tell on all of the above, but the intent seems real.

1.  2013/14 Forecast.  The budgeted $1.7 million deficit is now projected to turn into a break-even (including the one-time TEEA bonus).  This is driven by the $0.65 million benefit from the Vanguard settlement, a $1.4 million favorable variance in salaries (factoring in all retirements, resignations, leaves), a $0.2 million reduction in salary-driven benefits, a $0.2 million savings in transportation, offset by (non-salary) special education expenses that are $0.85 million over budget.  So, yet again, the budget under-estimated the salary “breakage”.  The special ed development is perhaps more of a surprise and although it wasn’t clear, seems to be made up of outside tuition and legal costs driven by an unexpected influx from early intervention programs.  That seems like an especially large variance given a total special education budget of $16 million.

2.  Preliminary 2014/14 budget.  The FC voted to approve for discussion at the January 6th Board meeting a draft that calls for a 3.2% property tax increase: the 2.1% Index and 1.1% PSERS exception.  This looks to me like a budget with enough leeway to absorb costs of a TEEA agreement and AHA solution, both of which are left as “status quo” in the first pass.  The ~$3 million expense increase is a result of a $1 million net PSERS increase, and a $2 million increase in “other” expenditures.  The breakdown of the “other” number was not quantified, although Special Ed and Maintenance cost increases were cited.  Interestingly healthcare costs are expected to be flat.  The salary line is level also, but results from a number of puts and takes: absence of the $1 million plus bonus and savings from the new TENIG agreement, offset (completely?) by nine additional teachers, six due to enrollment, two due to special ed, one for mental health.  No sign of the (in) famous breakage in this calculation, though!

My take-away:

1.  The Board needs to be persistent in seeking a full accounting of the projections, as the high level numbers net out and obscure many different trends (more detail was requested).  Also, it’s too easy, as was done last night, to place the blame on Harrisburg/PSERS, when in fact that’s only one third of the expense increase.  Everyone last night quickly accepted that all cost savings opportunities have been implemented after the efforts of recent years.  It may be helpful to the community to recap what possible next steps would be (eg are we really down to major and unlikely options like class size, arts programs, transportation, facilities capital spending**, etc., and what would be the magnitude for those?).  [**Capital spending is paid for by tax payers, too].

2.  The size of the Special Education program in total, the “miss” this year and continuing above-index increases are clearly a budget concern.  The district has taken steps to control costs, but those are being overwhelmed.  I think it would be helpful to the community to have an exposition of the program, perhaps at an Education Committee meeting?  A description of the services offered, the utilization and price trends, steps we have taken and plan to take, comparison with other districts and so on.

3.  There is no sign yet of any increase in the real estate assessed base value, which is budgeted flat, but signs of development suggest that any change will be to the upside.  On the other hand, residential development will increase enrollment, and as Dr Motel is quick to remind us, that’s a net negative for the school district.  So the pressure on real estate taxes to increase above the rate of inflation will continue.  (Although PSERS will be more or less leveled out by 2018/19, even with the just-released slight increase in planned contribution rates).  I continue to believe that it makes sense to share the tax burden between property and income via an EIT, although of course implementation would be a huge problem.

4.  The community needs to pay attention, starting with the January 6th Board meeting.  Although the budget evolves as more data comes in, and exceptions advertised may not be requested or indeed taken, early numbers have a way of being sticky.

A final note: President Buraks informed us that the district is putting together a full analysis of the options associated with the requirements of the Affordable Healthcare Act.  This would be presented for community discussion rather than as a Board recommendation.  The idea seems to be to do this soon, although no specific timing was given.

Election 2013 Results: Surprises for Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors & T/E School Board!

The 2013 Election Day results are in and there are some changes for the Board of Supervisors in Tredyffrin Township and the T/E School Board.  National politics and the Tea Party movement certainly appear to have influenced the outcome in some of our local races.

In a surprising upset, two Democratic at-large candidates Murph Wysocki and Mark Freed, beat incumbent Michelle Kichline (R) who currently serves as the chair of the Board of Supervisors and Trip Lukens (R), chair of the township’s Planning Commission.    In the middle District supervisor race, EJ Richter (R) beat Laurie Elliot (D).  Prior to this election, only 2 Democrats (Paul Drucker and Mark DiFeliciantonio) have ever served on Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors.  As of Election Day 2013, that number has now doubled.

For the T/E School Board, incumbent school board president Kevin Buraks (D) won his race against opponent Pete Connors (R).  However, incumbent Rich Brake (R) lost his seat on the school board to Democratic candidate Scott Dorsey.  Election results indicate that Republicans Virginia Lastner and Doug Carlson will join the school board from Easttown Township.

Thank you to all the candidates and congratulations to those who won!

League of Women Voters Debate: Part II, Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisor Candidates


NOTE: The TE School Board candidate debate and the Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors candidate debate are now available on the township website, click here.


The League of Women Voters candidate debate for the Tredyffrin Township supervisor candidates followed the TE School Board candidates debate on Saturday.  The format was the same – 2-minute opening statements, audience questions read by LWV moderator and then 2-minute closing statement by candidates. All six candidates participated, Michelle Kichline (R), Trip Lukens (R), Mark Freed (D) and Murph Wysocki (D) for the two At-Large supervisor seats and Laurie Elliott (D) and EJ Richter (R) for the Middle supervisor seat.

Many of the audience members from the school board debate remained for the supervisor debate.  Perhaps due to the lateness in scheduling of the school board debate, there appeared to be many more residents attended the supervisor debate.  Whereas the focus of many of the audience questions for the school board candidates focused on communication, transparency and trust issue, it was interesting to note that no such questions were posed to the supervisor candidates.  Both the TE School Board and the Tredyffrin Township had two incumbents participating in the LWV forum – Kevin Buraks (D) and Rich Brake (R) for the School Board and Michelle Kichline (R) and EJ Richter (R) for the Board of Supervisors. TE School Board president (Buraks) and the Board of Supervisors Chair (Kichline) are both incumbents, seeking reelection.

The supervisor forum quickly became the debate between (1) the accomplishments of the current board versus (2) the criticism from their opponents of what more could have been accomplished.  Three of the four At-Large supervisor candidates (Kichline, Freed, and Wysocki) are attorneys; their banter and positioning making the fact obvious. However, with a background in commercial real estate evaluation and six years on the Planning Commission, Trip Lukens, the at-large supervisor candidate (without the legal background) handily held his own.  Although currently serving as an at-large supervisor, Chesterbrook resident EJ Richter is seeking election to the middle district seat, her opponent is Laurie Elliott from the Glenhardie section of the township.

Elliott’s message was primarily focused on safety and stormwater.  On safety, she supports the police department but due to increase in daytime burglaries, wants to make certain that the department remains fully staffed.  As a Glenhardie resident, she is eager to see solutions to the township’s stormwater issue and believes we need action rather than more studies.

Richter focused her statement to her role as ‘taxpayer advocate’ as she did in the 2009 election, claiming that while in office she has never voted for a property tax increase. In addition to her no tax increase stance, Richter offered a couple of accomplishments during her term as supervisor – the creation of ‘Tree-dyffrin’, the planting of trees in Wilson Farm Park for storm water management and working to get township street lights replaced.

In her second year as chair of the Board of Supervisors, Kichline pointed to some of the township achievements including the development of a citizen advisory committee that is working on ideas for keeping Tredyffrin competitive in the commercial development market.  Under her leadership, Kichline noted a new township website, new software that improves the planning and zoning process, and named several companies that have relocated to the township, including Auxilium and Teleflex, in addition to Shire’s decision not to leave. Kichline argued that the revitalization is beginning in Paoli and cited the $15 million residential project recently approved the SEPTA plan and the planned relocation of the dangerous N. Valley Bridge to Darby Road.

As a member of the Planning Commission, Lukens spoke of the process to rewrite the commercial zoning ordinance for the township as a vehicle to encourage development in the township. According to Lukens, the rewrite required a ‘looking outside the box’ approach and as an example mentioned the commercial zoning rewrite included increasing building height restrictions and structured parking as a means of better storm water management.

Freed, an environmental attorney, focused his attention on township storm water issues and ‘smart development’, pointing out the ;underused resources in the business parks and shopping centers;. Claiming that he, “knows how to get things done” Freed scoffed at Richter’s suggestion that Tredyffrin is undergoing a Renaissance with new restaurants, retail, etc. saying, “If this is a Renaissance, I’d hate to see what the Dark Ages were like”.   As pointed to by Kichline and Richter, a number of new retail stores, restaurants, companies have recently opened in Tredyffrin. Freed dismissed these as individual successes, preferring to focus on empty office buildings, shopping centers and storefronts.  According to him, enough with the “plan, plan, plan, study, study, study, money, money, money – we need action”.

With thirty-five years of experience as a commercial real estate lawyer, Wysocki’s focus was similar to Freed on the need for smart commercial redevelopment.  However, Wysocki’s particular focus was on the Paoli Transportation Town Center, restating several times that the project has been in the works for 20 years, and there is still no shovel in the ground. His frustration with the project delays was evident; believing that his background and experience can move it forward and that he” knows how to solve problems and get results”.  He suggests broadening the tax base with commercial redevelopment projects to increase commercial revenues and as result, residents will enjoy higher property values.

The common thread throughout the 2 hours was the need for economic redevelopment in the township – the question is which candidate can best make that happen.  Fifty percent of the supervisor candidates point to change that has occurred, including the updated township website and technology, commercial zoning re-write, new restaurants and retail stores, corporate re-relocations, citizen advisory group, etc. as an indicator of the future while the remaining candidates believe that the redevelopment in the community is not moving quickly enough and that more should be done.

The economic revitalization of Tredyffrin Township is critical to to the future of our community and a topi on which all six candidates agree.  The decision for the voter on November 5th  is which supervisor candidates are best prepared to make it happen. I encourage you to watch the debates, review the candidate’s websites and speak directly to the candidates — tell them your concerns; ask them your questons.    Election Day is Tuesday, November 5!

Without a final Vanguard settlement agreement, Tredyffrin supervisors postpone vote … How could School Board vote to approve?

Tredyffrin’s largest employer, Vanguard, challenged the tax assessments for its main corporate campus and several of the buildings that surround the main campus for tax year 2012-13.

On July 8, the School Board held a Special Meeting to approve the Vanguard appeal settlement.   The School District had challenged Vanguard’s appeal and rather than the potential loss of $800K in revenue annually, the settlement cost the District $150K in annual revenue – saving the District $650K in annual losses.

All of this sounded like good news for the District – improving financials is always good news, isn’t it? The Board detailed the ongoing efforts of the District staff and solicitor in regards to the Vanguard settlement and enthusiastically approved the proposed settlement.  Although the other taxing authorities (township and county) had to approve the settlement, the solicitor stated that he expected the additional approvals by the end of the month.  In other words, fait accompli for the approval of the Vanguard appeal settlement. Following the meeting, the Board released a statement on their website, which in part said …

School Board Approves Vanguard Appeal Settlement

At a Special Meeting on July 8, 2013, the Tredyffrin/Easttown School Board approved a settlement agreement concerning the Vanguard assessment appeals. While the Board approved the settlement, the agreement is not final until Tredyffrin Township and Chester County, which are also taxing authorities for the Vanguard properties, also approve the agreement. All parties have been involved with the negotiations process which began in the fall of 2011.

I attended Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors meeting last night and discussion of the Vanguard appeal settlement was on the agenda.   Based on the school board’s July 8 approval of the settlement agreement, I assumed that the supervisors would rubber-stamp that decision.  However, as we learned from the township solicitor, Vince Donohue, the Vanguard agreement was not final and that the attorneys for the District and Vanguard were still going back and forth over the details as late as 5 PM last night.   Donohue explained that the legal discussion would not change the assessment values but rather the ‘terms’ of the agreement, concluding that the “devil is in the details”.  Based on the uncertainty of the final Vanguard agreement, Donohue advised the supervisors to postpone their vote.

For several of us who attended both the school board meeting and the supervisors meeting, you are left shaking your head and wondering why is there such a disconnect between the school district and the township.  Two weeks ago the school board holds a special meeting to tell the public their ‘good news’ – that after much effort, the District has reached a settlement with Vanguard and that there is a net savings of $650K.   Plus the added bonus included in the settlement is that Vanguard will not seek assessment appeals for 3 years. We have no idea what ‘terms’ of the agreement are still in debate, maybe Vanguard is no longer interested in a moratorium on assessment appeals.

What we saw with the VFES tennis courts, we now see with the Vanguard agreement … a complete disconnect between the school district and the township on public issues.  Why the seemingly disregard of the township supervisors by the school board? Rather than collaborating on shared matters, such as the tennis courts and the assessment appeal, the school board makes their decisions and then leaves it to the supervisors to find out after the fact.

I’m struggling to understand how it is possible that, without a final Vanguard appeal agreement to review, the township supervisors appropriately decides to postpone their vote whereas the school board votes to approve that same agreement and then works on the terms afterwards? 

Zoning Amendment Could be Solution to Saving the Tennis Courts

May 1 was the deadline for the School District to submit their variance application to the Township in order to be listed on the Zoning Hearing Board’s May 23 meeting agenda.  According to Township Manager Bill Martin, the application was received today. Some of the neighbors of the Valley Forge Elementary School tennis courts may think there is nothing to stop the ZHB from awarding the variance, but that may not be the case.

The combined impervious coverage of the tennis courts and the additional parking spaces exceeds the township stormwater requirement. Based on the PA Municipalities Planning Code (MPC) there appears to be no legal basis for Tredyffrin’s Zoning Hearing Board to grant a variance to the School District.

Under the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (MPC) a zoning hearing board “may grant a variance, provided that all of the following findings are made where relevant in a given case:

  1. That there are unique physical circumstances or conditions, including irregularity, narrowness, or shallowness of lot size or shape, or exceptional topographical or other physical conditions peculiar to the particular property and that the unnecessary hardship is due to such conditions and not the circumstances or conditions generally created by the provisions of the zoning ordinance in the neighborhood or district in which the property is located.
  2. That because of such physical circumstances or conditions, there is no possibility that the property can be developed in strict conformity with the provisions of the zoning ordinance and that the authorization of a variance is therefore necessary to enable reasonable use of the property.
  3. That such unnecessary hardship has not been created by the appellant.
  4. That the variance, if authorized, will not alter the essential character of the neighborhood or district in which the property is located nor substantially or permanently impair the appropriate use or development of adjacent property, nor be detrimental to the public welfare.
  5. That the variance, if authorized, will represent the minimum variance that will afford relief and will represent the least modification possible of the regulation in issue.”

According to the MPC, the School District needs to show an economic hardship for ZHB to grant a variance in this matter. However, the additional parking spaces at VFES are optional (not a requirement) for the School District and therefore do not constitute an economic hardship. I have been forced to accept that using the logic that the impervious coverage (of the tennis courts plus the additional parking) is only a ‘little over’ will not satisfy the MPC requirement. There is also the matter of a strict stormwater policy in Tredyffrin, and an important issue that is unlikely sidestepped.

A solution that would save the tennis courts, allow the additional parking spaces and not require a ZHB variance was presented to the School District and Township by John Petersen, a former ZHB member.  I was copied on the following email sent to Michelle Kichline, chair of the Board of Supervisors, Kevin Buraks, President of the School Board and the Township and School District solicitors, Vince Donohue and Ken Roos, respectfully.

Here’s a suggestion…

The BoS offers up a zoning amendment that creates an exception for what is counted as impervious coverage: tennis courts, basketball courts, etc. that are available for public use (defined as owned by either the township or school district) that exists on or before the date, the zoning amendment is ratified. A possible permutation is that the first 1K square feet is exempted.

I normally don’t endorse amending the ZO based on specific facts. Like everything, there are always exceptions. For an exception, there must be some solid criteria to support such:

1. The items covered by the exception can never increase

2. Its not de-facto spot zoning because there are any number of places where this applies

3. Not likely to have an adverse impact on storm water (TESD will still have storm water issues to deal with in the parking long construction)

4. There is a strong public policy argument in retaining recreational facilities

I don’t think you will get much, if any push back on this. Is it legal? That’s up to you guys to figure out. In my opinion, this is not objectionable, unlike the recent C-1 amendment. The school district is not just any ordinary landowner.

Baring this, there is no way to keep the courts and build the additional parking. There are no legal grounds to grant a variance.

There’s an old saying that bad facts make bad law. In this case, bad facts sometimes require us to re-visit the law. In 1,000 cases, there may be one time when we should do that. I think this is one of those times. The change is very limited and is in keeping with public policy and finally, no material adverse impacts to storm water. The school district should hot have to choose between courts that have been there for 40+ years and the need to add much needed parking.


Although there were follow-up emails sent, to date no one has responded to Mr. Petersen’s suggestion.  The four people receiving Petersen’s email (Kichline, Buraks, Donohue and Roos) are all attorneys and therefore presumably understand the standard required by the Municipalities Planning Code for the Zoning Hearing Board to issue a variance. In fact, if memory serves me, Michelle Kichline served on the ZHB before her election to the Board of Supervisors. Considering the legalities of the MPC, why should the School District bother to submit a variance application?  If not economic hardship, on what grounds is the School District seeking a variance?

Even if the Township reduces the fees to the School District, there are professional costs (legal, architectural) involved with the ZHB variance application.  Why not consider a zoning amendment – the tennis courts are saved and the parking lot is expanded.  Looks like a win-win for the Township, the School District and the residents who use the tennis courts!


Note: I am sending this article to Kichline, Buraks, Donohue and Roos asking them to comment directly to me on (1) the grounds for the ZHB to issue a variance to the School District and (2) the consideration of a zoning amendment.  Their responses will be posted on Community Matters.

VFES Tennis Courts: Looking for an explanation from TESD President Kevin Buraks

The Valley Forge Elementary School tennis courts are on tonight’s agenda of the TESD.  Every time you think that this situation has moved forward, it takes a couple of steps backwards.  As a result, it is unclear exactly what is going to come out of tonight’s meeting — will the courts stay or will they go?

At the District Facilities Meeting on Friday, April 12, the committee voted to recommend to the school board that the tennis courts be saved.  Having attended the Facilities Meeting, I took that to mean that their recommendation would be discussed at the next regular School Board meeting (tonight).  I presumed that the Facilities Committee would first make the recommendation; but then it would be up to the full School Board to ‘act’ on that recommendation.

However, at the same time that the Facilities Meeting was going on, a draft tennis court agreement was sent from the District to the Township.  We learned of that proposal at the Board of Supervisors meeting on Monday, April 15 from chair Michelle Kichline.  Kichline, with concurrence from Township Solicitor Vince Donohue, suggested  legal problems with the proposal … specifically, that the District was asking for stormwater relief from the Township, in exchange for the tennis courts.  After all the discussion that has taken place on this topic, it is impossible to understand why the School Board cannot accept that a stormwater-tennis court trade is not legally possible.  Why would the School District submit such a proporal to the township that included storm water relief? We were led to believe at the Facilities Committee meeting, that the school district was interested in a reasonable settlement of the tennis courts situation.  However, the proposed agreement suggests otherwise. Who wrote this draft agreement … the School District Solicitor Ken Roos?

Beyond the legalities of the proposal, I am struggling to understand how this agreement was sent to the township before the School Board reviewed it.  How could the School Board review the draft agreement before the Facilities Committee even sent them their recommendation?  Did School Board president Kevin Buraks review the tennis court proposal and authorize its release to the Township?   Doesn’t proper procedure count for anything?  Where’s the sunshine?

The outcome from the Board of Supervisors meeting was the suggestion for the School District and Township solicitors to prepare the tennis court agreement.  Donohue and Roos are left to ‘hash’ out the agreement between the two entities at the taxpayer’s expense.  Neither TESD nor Tredyffrin Township can afford the legal expense that has now been created by this situation.   With all the talks of cuts in the school district, threats of outsourcing, etc. where’s the fiscal responsibility?

But here we are with the tennis courts on tonight’s School Board agenda.  The saga continues …

This Issue is not only Tennis Courts … It’s accountability from elected officials

It is likely that many in our community were not aware of last week’s drama over the planned demolition of the two tennis courts at Valley Forge Elementary School this past Saturday. Through the efforts of many neighborhood members, the courts received a temporary “stay of execution” to allow for further discussion.  However, getting the School Board Directors to call off the bulldozers at the ninth hour did not come easily or without a political tug-of-war between the School District and Tredyffrin Township.  In the end, the issue wasn’t about a few neighbors crying foul over the proposed demise of their local tennis courts. From my vantage point, this problem has more to do when elected officials and administrators choose to ignore the voices of the community until the situation borders on explosive.

For those that are unaware of what I’m talking about, here’s the brief overview.  Tredyffrin Township, on Tredyffrin Easttown School District property, constructed the tennis courts at Valley Forge Elementary School and until 2009, maintained the two courts.  In 2009, the Township decided they no longer wanted to maintain the courts and requested that the School District take over maintenance.  However, according to TESD business manager, Art McDonnell, the District has never maintained the tennis courts.

The District’s 2008 parking study concluded the need for additional parking spaces at Valley Forge Elementary School — requiring the expansion of the existing lot.  I need to point out that the parking lot and its planned expansion is located in the front of the elementary school whereas the tennis courts are in the back of the property.  The expansion of the VFES parking would not include the property where the tennis courts are located.

The obvious question to ask … why demolish the tennis courts if the parking lot expansion is not close to the courts. It was the view of the School Board that they could trade the increased impervious coverage and storm water requirements of the new parking area with the removal of the tennis courts.  The Board believed that this approach would reduce the parking lot project costs and save taxpayer money.  McDonnell claimed that there was an agreement between the District and the Township in this regard.

Shortly before last week’s School Board meeting, Glenhardie neighbors to Valley Forge Elementary School were notified of Saturday’s planned demolition of the tennis courts.  Representing her neighbors, township resident Rosemary Kait appealed to the School Board Directors to delay the demolition pending further discussion. Based on the discussion, it appeared that the demolition was required by the township to meet storm water requirement for the parking lot expansion project.  Kait left the School Board meeting and went  to the Board of Supervisors meeting, seeking  resolution.

As the clock ticked down to Saturday’s ‘Demolition Day’, there was a flurry of activity with phone calls and emails from the residents to the School Board and administration as well as the township manager and Board of Supervisors. What quickly developed was a ‘Tale of Two Cities’ – with Art McDonnell claiming that the Township required the demolition of the tennis courts to meet storm water requirements for the expanded parking lot.  Township Manager Bill Martin and Township Engineer Steve Burgo countered McDonnell’s claims, stating that the removal of the tennis courts would not reduce the storm water requirements of the additional parking spaces.

In a press release from the Township, Martin takes issue with the way the District is presenting the situation to the public, and states that the District’s “… statement implies the Township requirements ‘force’ you to remove the courts”.  Martin suggests, “The District could have easily gone to the ZHB (Zoning Hearing Board) for zoning relief to impervious coverage limit.”

As McDonnell and Martin issued their statements on behalf of the District and Township respectfully, the residents worked behind the scenes – appealing directly to members of the School Board and the Board of Supervisors.  Copied on many of the email exchanges, I learned that these tennis courts are regularly used, not just by neighbors but by children in PTO sponsored after-school tennis programs.  I also learned that the tennis courts are currently in very good condition; but not because the courts are maintained by either the District or the Township.  For several years, at no cost to the Township or District the neighbors have actually maintained the tennis courts.

Believing that there had to be a better solution than demolition, (like a ZHB variance), all the residents were simply asking for delay for further discussion.  Although some have suggested that the proposed demolition of the tennis courts is not political, you cannot escape the fact that the president of the School Board Kevin Buraks (D) and chair of the Board of Supervisors Michelle Kichline (R) are completing their first terms and now seek re-election to the School Board and BOS, respectfully.  Clearly caught in the midst of this tug-of-war and finger-pointing, the residents planned a 7 AM ‘Save our Tennis Courts” rally.

Supportive of the residents, I planned to attend their early morning rally.  Acutely aware that the School District owns the property and therefore has the right to demolish the tennis courts, I believed that further discussion could produce an acceptable alternative to bulldozing. Very late on Friday night, School Board president Kevin Buraks notified the neighbors of the Board’s decision to delay the demolition, pending further discussion.  The next monthly TESD meeting is Monday, April 22.

Bottom line … in my opinion, much of the drama over the demolition of the tennis courts and the ninth hour decision to delay could have been avoided.  How?  Residents deserve better communication and accountability from elected officials.  I am troubled by (1) the lack of adequate notification of the District to VFES neighbors of the demolition; (2) misrepresentation or confusion of the related facts (I suggest that you read the conflicting  Township press release and the School District’s response) and (3) the overall feeling from residents of unresponsiveness from the School Board and administration.

Normally, I do not comment on Ray Hoffman’s column in Main Line Media News, but I take issue with his characterization of the threatened tennis court demolition.  In this week’s column, Hoffman says, “… the recent flak from neighbors over the scheduled demolition of the two tennis courts at Valley Forge Elementary School is Shakespearean at its best, “much ado about nothing,” or an inventive modification of the NIMBY “law” at its worst.”

Mr. Hoffman, I could not disagree more … the proposed tennis court demolition is about much more than about ‘nothing’.  It is about accountability and transparency from our elected officials.  It is about the public’s trust for fairness from our government.  It is about those elected to serve listening to our concerns and working with us for acceptable solutions.  Poor accountability erodes our trust.

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