Phil Donohue

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.

Tredyffrin’s Solicitor Vince Donohue claims that government does not seek to suppress public comment … Really?

The Pennsylvania Sunshine Act requires all public agencies to take all official actions and conduct all deliberations leading up to official actions at public meetings.  According to 65 Pa.C.S.A. § 708(a); Sunshine Act, Section 8(a), there are certain discussions that can take place in an executive session where the public is excluded. At the onset of every Board of Supervisors meeting, Michelle Kichline, in her capacity as chair, makes a statement that the Board met prior to the meeting in executive session to discuss legal and personnel matters.  Under the provisions of the PA Sunshine Act, those township matters pertaining to personnel or legal matters are not discussed publicly   In fact, if during the ‘New Matters – Citizens’  section of the Board of Supervisors meeting, a resident asks a question that falls into the legal or personnel category, either a Board member of the township solicitor quickly points out that they cannot respond to the question.  Over years of attending supervisors meeting, I can attest that the solicitor does not permit the supervisors to respond to citizen questions that fall into personnel or legal areas.

Understanding the provisions of the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, it was surprising to read that Tredyffrin Township’s solicitor Vince Donohue had a public response on a legal matter in Main Line Media News article, ”Community Matters blogger Pattye Benson calls for Tredyffrin Township to adopt policy regarding the use of its website” written by Richard Llgenfritz.

If you recall Llgenfritz wrote the story, “Tredyffrin zoning hearing board member not guilty after police are a no-show at her trial in late August.  His article, in addition to TE Patch, Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily Local articles, blog posts on Chester County Ramblings and telephone and email inquiries from residents, were the reasons that I conducted my mini-research investigation.

As part of my research on the police matter, I spoke with Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors chair Michelle Kichline, Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan, Tredyffrin Police Superintendent Tony Giaimo and District Judge Tom Tartaglio.  For the results of my research and corresponding comments in post, “Community Matters closes the chapter on police investigation but Tredyffrin supervisor opens a new one”, click here.

Because of the newspaper articles, blog posts and related public comments on the police situation, Tredyffrin Township supervisor John DiBuonaventuro decided to write and post a personal letter dated September 5, 2012 on the township website, using township resources and township letterhead.  Although the use of government resources by an elected official is surprising, it was the fact that the other six supervisors, the township manager and the township solicitor sanctioned the behavior of DiBuonaventuro that underscored the importance for a township website policy.

This past Friday, I posted the letter from my attorney Samuel Stretton on Community Matters. Stretton’s letter was sent to the seven members of Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors.  I learned in Llgenfritz MLMN article, that Stretton’s letter was forwarded to the township solicitor Vince Donohue.  No surprise as this was a legal matter and as the township solicitor, he clearly needed to be involved.  However, because this is a ‘legal matter’ (remember the PA Sunshine Act and that legal and personnel matters in the township are not publicly discussed but held for executive session discussion), I was amazed that Donohue discusses Stretton’s letter with Llgenfritz.  Gosh, I would think that Donohue should not be talking about sending a response to Stretton – isn’t this a legal matter?  And then to further throw out there that it would be up to me whether I make the letter public or not?  To my knowledge, Stretton has not received a letter and I certainly have not seen any letter from Donohue. (I will assume that Donohue’s response is ‘in the mail’).  So, I  am struggling to understand this – the supervisors are not permitted to discuss legal matters in public but it is OK for the township solicitor to discuss legal matters?  Shouldn’t the more appropriate response from Donohue to Llgenfritz have been, “… this is a legal matter, and I am not at liberty to discuss”.

However, Donohue does not stop there in his comments to the newspaper, he goes on to address some of the issues that others and I have raised – i.e. First Amendment rights.  According to Donohue,

“This township has no interest what so ever in suppressing anybody’s first amendment rights and in fact does not. All you need to do is take a look at our five six-hour public meetings that we’ve had in the last few years. All you need to do is look at the Trout Creek overlay ordinance process where we involved no fewer than 30 members of the public on working groups and commissions held six or seven public hearings even for those members of the community that didn’t like the outcome I think it’s hard to argue with the openness and the fact that the township encourages and invites public input. I think this township’s actions belie any claim that it seeks to suppress public comment positive or otherwise about township matters.”

All I can say is, wow.  Donohue approved DiBuonaventuro’s letter going on the township letterhead on the township website.  I suggest that he needs to go back and read it and then come up with a more convincing argument as to how his letter is not an attempt to silence those who dare to disagree.  DiBuonaventuro writes in his September 5 letter, “What is more important for community to realize from this example is the disturbing trend that has developed with most of the internet elements of legitimate newspapers and the tabloid formatted blogs like “Community Matters”.  Public discussion of important community matters is a ‘disturbing trend’ — whether public discussion is over the backyard fence, in the aisle of the Paoli Acme or on the Internet, it is our First Amendment right; open debate and commentary exists under the US Constitution.

In fact, before I contacted Sam Stretton, I sent DiBuonaventuro’s letter to several attorneys and journalists; individuals who do not live in the area and would not know any of the people involved.  Not one person responded that they thought the actions of our government in regards to DiBuonaventuro’s letter were OK.  In addition, I should add that many people used adjectives like ‘chilling’ in describing DiBuonaventuro’s attempt to suppress public discussion.

It is interesting that Donohue would point to the many meetings held over the Trout Creek ordinance (for the record, there were 7 public hearings), as somehow public comment at supervisors meetings was the same thing as DiBuonaventuro’s use of public resources, public letterhead and public website.  Certainly, there were many meetings over Trout Creek, but I wonder how many of the Glenhardie residents feel that their voices were actually heard during the process?  Donohue makes no mention of Trisha Larkin and her neighbors in the Daylesford neighborhood.  Like the Glenhardie residents, how many of the Daylesford folks think that their voices made a difference to the outcome.  The Daylesford neighbors, in addition to many residents throughout the township, were overwhelmingly opposed to the C-1 zoning change.  However, as we all saw, their voices did not matter.  Yet Donohue claims that the township “encourages and invites public input” … maybe that’s true if you happen to be developer Ed Morris or his attorney Denise Yarnoff, who now have the green light to build an assisted living facility on 1 acre on Lancaster Ave.

As a resident of Tredyffrin Township, this is all so very disheartening, including Donohue’s response to Main Line Media News.  I am amazed that it is OK for the township solicitor to discuss a legal matter of a private citizen with the newspaper — to talk about a township response that he has sent to my attorney, Sam Stretton, that I have not even seen.  Wow.

It’s like some of the rules in Tredyffrin Township only exist when they benefit our elected officials, not the citizens.

Long Awaited Report from Tredyffrin Twp Business Development Advisory Council … Soon to be released

Because of increasing empty storefronts and vacant corporate buildings, I wrote a post fourteen months ago asking if there was anything that could be done to attract new businesses and stimulate long-term, stable, economic growth in our community. In the February 2, 2011 article, I said,

I wonder if a township business task force would help . . . a volunteer group of local retired executives, small business owners, and corporate representatives.  The group would meet monthly with a mission to spearhead ways to improve existing relationships and provide assistance and a resource for township businesses.  This important support group for the business community could provide regular updates and suggestions to the Board of Supervisors.  Just an idea . . .

A couple of months after this article appeared in Community Matters, the Board of Supervisors approved the creation of a Tredyffrin Business Development Advisory Council in April 2011.  Supervisors Michele Kichline, Phil Donohue and Mike Heaberg held meetings with local companies, real estate and leasing representatives, etc. and designed a model for this volunteer advisory group.

Following the establishment of the criteria, community members wishing to participate were asked to submit letters of interest for consideration.  From the 20 applications received, six residents were chosen to serve on the advisory board including Dan Fishbein, VP of BNY Mellon; Eric Kleppe, Turner Investments; Stanford Nishikawa, junk-bond analysis and private investor; Jim Sanborn, Gen Manager, Interstate & Ocean Transport Company; John Susanin, SSHH Real Estate and Bill Thomsen, Urban Engineers. In my November 15, 2011 Community Matters post, I provided the announcement of the advisory group members and their mission,

“This group was chosen for its cross section of business, strategic, planning and marketing expertise.  They are highly skilled citizens who do not currently serve on our boards and commissions and have agreed to take a critical look at all aspects of the Township that relate to business development and business retention.  This includes, but is not limited to zoning, transportation and marketing.”

In addition to supervisors Kichline, Donahue, Heaberg, and the six citizens listed above, four community liaison members were named to assist the group – Tory Snyder, Planning Commission; Beth Brake and Donna Shipman, Community Affairs and Small Business; and to represent the Paoli Business community, Dave Rowland.

As explained last fall by the supervisors, the group would work together for 4-6 months and then present their findings, which were to include recommendations and suggestions.  As follow-up to their public report, it was intended that a long-term business advisory group would be created.  It was recently announced that the advisory group is completing their study and will present their report at the supervisors meeting on June 18.  I look forward to their report and am hopeful that there will be some positive news.  However, I was troubled to learn yesterday from one of the named liaisons to the group – Donna Shipman that she was never contacted by the advisory group nor was she asked to provide input.  According to Donna, she contacted several supervisors to express her concern but there was no follow-up from the advisory group.

This information is concerning … was Donna’s experience as a liaison to this advisory group an isolated situation?  Were the other three liaison members involved and part of the process?  As they conducted their research, who in the community was contacted by the advisory group?  Did they speak with members of the small business community, corporate and real estate representatives, the township staff? I believe that there was potential for the Business Development Advisory Council to make a difference in the community through outreach and research … did the group achieve their mission?  

We are all interested in the revitalization of our community and the current economic climate presents unique challenges.  The political influence of elected leadership is critical to helping communities stay the course toward a vibrant economic future. Dedicated leadership is needed to raise awareness, help develop and communicate a common vision and motivate the community into action.  Our elected officials have opportunities every day to effect change and promote a strategic vision of economic growth for their community growth. Is this a priority of our elected officials and if so, how successful are they in meeting the objective?

At a friend’s suggestion, I recently spent some time driving and walking around downtown Malvern. By the way, I would encourage everyone to take the time and visit this place … talk about economic redevelopment!  Wow. It is so exciting to see all the changes and development, including adaptive re-use of existing buildings and new construction, in their town center.  As an example, the original old Malvern fire company building, off King Street, was restored and retrofitted for mixed-use; the lower level commercial and upper level residential condominiums. Brick walkways, Victorian light posts and flowering planters line the downtown area the length of King Street; a total renaissance is occurring in this small borough,  next-door to the west of us.

I want what Malvern has managed to achieve, for ‘our’ community.  Malvern, Phoenixville, Wayne, West Chester, Media – all these places are faced with similar economic issues as ‘us’, yet these places are moving ahead in spite of the challenges … so why can’t we?

Looking forward to the public report from Tredyffrin Township’s Business Development Advisory Council on June 18; I want to hear the group’s ideas and suggestions on ways to revitalize and stimulate economic growth in our community.

Understanding the Trout Creek Overlay Ordinance … More Complex than a Wawa or an Apartment Building

I attended Monday night’s marathon 3+ hour public hearing and Board of Supervisors meeting.  The main event of the night was the public hearing and resident comments in regards to a zoning ordinance amendment that would develop a Trout Creek Overlay district. (Here is a link to the meeting video).

There was much to take in from the meeting and I have struggled to ‘wrap my head around’ the details of the proposed zoning ordinance amendment, affects the development project and storm water improvements may have on the community, misinformation and a degree of confusion among some residents.  Part of the confusion about the project is in the labeling – although the township information refers to it as the ‘Trout Creek Overlay’ proposal, the problem is that unless you attend Planning Commission meetings, local residents may not have initially recognized it was the ‘Richter’ tract and its possible development was discussion.

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.  R-1 zoning permits single-family homes and with special exception house conversion to multi-family dwelling.  The Professional zoning district permits office or professional buildings.

The proposed zoning ordinance amendment to develop an overlay district in the Trout Creek Watershed is more than just about the development of the Richter tract; although the Richter tract is the largest undeveloped property in the Trout Creek Watershed.  As the economy improves, there may be opportunities for future redevelopment projects in the township.  Therefore, this proposed zoning ordinance amendment change could be used elsewhere in the Trout Creek Overlay district as an incentive for developers.

As an example, we recently learned that the US Postal Service will consolidate postal services and the Southeastern PO distribution center will close in May.  The Southeastern PO location could become a future redevelopment area that might benefit from the proposed zoning amendment.  Click here to see the Trout Creek Watershed map and what areas would be potentially affected by the proposed zoning ordinance.

The reasoning behind the creation of a Trout Creek Overlay district is to provide for public stormwater improvements on development projects in the Trout Creek Watershed district.  (Area as identified on the Trout Creek Watershed map).

Back to the Richter property — this appears to be the guiding force behind the proposed zoning ordinance amendment.  The way I see it, there are four major groups of players in this specific development project – the developer Joe Duckworth and Arcadia Land Company, the Glenhardie area residents, township Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors.

Anyone living in Tredyffrin, knows that there are major stormwater issues all around the township and those problems are long-standing.  In addition, the township has been working on solutions to the flooding problems in the Glenhardie area for years.  The challenge for the township is that a number of large properties are needed for stormwater management facilities that would hold back runoff during heavy rain, thereby reducing the volume of water downstream into Trout Creek. However, the real problem is how to come up with long-term solutions, particularly in an economy where money is not easily available.

If the township does not have the necessary resources for stormwater management, and if the residents are not interested in paying increased taxes … what is the solution for stormwater problems?  One idea is to offer incentives to developers in exchange for increased stormwater management components in their land development projects.  I believe it was that specific objective, which drove the Planning Commissioners to create the proposed Trout Creek Overlay zoning amendment.  To be clear, I do not think that the proposed zoning amendment was some kind of quixotic effort on the part of the Planning Commissioners to encourage a specific development project. But rather the Trout Creek Overlay zoning amendment was a time-consuming, thoroughly discussed plan to encourage development but to also aid in stormwater management.

As an aside to the Planning Commission process to develop the Trout Creek Overlay zoning amendment, is the Richter property developer – Joe Duckworth and Arcadia Land Company.  Attending various Planning Commission meetings, I have found Duckworth to be very community-minded and responsive to all questions and concerns related to the development of the Richter tract.  However, those discussions were about carriage homes and/or townhouses on the residential parcel of the Richter property.

In reviewing their website, Arcadia Land Company has developed some beautiful residential properties – places that would be very well suited for Tredyffrin Township and our residents. Arcadia Land describes their company as “Town Builders and Land Stewards”, and further states, “Arcadia’s approach to town building has been influenced by the New Urbanism and the conservation development movement.  New Urbanism is a movement that promotes compact, walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods as a positive alternative to low-density, automobile-oriented, single-use development. New Urbanism supports both the revitalization and expansion of existing centers as well as the creation of new neighborhoods.” 

Obviously, this wonderfully progressive planning language also needs to be tempered by local community and the resident’s needs (or desires).  My sense is that many of the local Richter property residents could accept (maybe even embrace) a beautiful carriage house/townhouse community.  What a great option for residents who want to downsize from large homes but continue to live in Tredyffrin!  Moreover, according to Duckworth, this project would include a costly and involved stormwater plan that would contain a 6-8 acre stormwater basin.  It should be noted that the stormwater issues in Tredyffrin are dramatic and it would be an overstatement to suggest that the Richter tract development would completely ‘fix’ the Trout Creek stormwater issues. But an improvement, nonetheless.

However, enter the proposed Trout Creek Overlay zoning amendment change, and the beautiful carriage house/townhouse community concept planned for the Richter tract takes a back seat to the possible commercial use of the ten acres currently zoned ‘professional’.  The proposed zoning change would extend the usage of this parcel to include retail stores with accessory gas (Wawa) and apartment buildings, among others.

Herein lies the problem  – many of us have a vision of a huge Wawa facility, like is found on Rt. 29 in Malvern.  However, the Wawa site was built in a field next to Route 202 versus a residential location. As was pointed out at Monday’s meeting, these multi-function gas stations are the real estate model for Wawa.  Rationalizing that perhaps Wawa would consider some small residential-friendly gas station instead of a commercial giant, I was willing to wait for the project design.  But when I heard there was discussion of possibly building a 250-unit apartment complex on the 10-acre site, there was no way that I could support that concept. For one reason, our school district simply cannot bear the number of additional students such a project could represent.  In a letter presented to the Board of Supervisors on Monday night from the T/E school district, they said just that – they could not afford to have the additional students in the district from a large apartment complex.

The stretch of Old Eagle School Road between Swedesford and Walker Rds is short but significant — home to Valley Friends Meeting and their cemetery. Lewis Walker, one of the earliest settlers in Tredyffrin, and one of the founding members of this Meeting, left to Friends in the Valley the 18th century property on which his family burial ground was located, now the burial grounds of Valley Meeting.  Several members of Valley Friends Meeting attended the public hearing and presented a poignant history of the building and the cemetery.  The Valley Friends Meeting presents another reason for us to pause as we consider appropriate development for that area.

Whether the proposed development for the 10-acre corner site is a Wawa or an apartment building, the concern from the Glenhardie neighbors goes beyond a NIMBY (not in my backyard) attitude.  Their concerns about additional traffic  in the area are real. Then there is the issue about stormwater management – is the neighborhood helped more from an 8-acre stormwater basin or hurt more from the development of the property?  Some local residents suggest that as the Swedesford Road corridor between Gateway and the new Wegmans has developed, so has the stormwater problems.

I would ask for some kind of middle ground on this project – understanding that the Richter tract is a premier building site and that the owners of the property have rights, should we not also show consideration for the Glenhardie neighbors, Valley Friends Meeting and what is best for the entire community, including the school district.

In closing, I want to address the Board of Supervisors and how I view their participation in this process.  I understand how upset many in the Glenhardie area are over this proposed zoning change for the Richter property. I live in the Great Valley but my husband and I have owned an investment condo in Glenhardie for almost twenty years, so I have more than a passing interest in this project. As a Glenhardie condo owner, I know first hand the Trout Creek stormwater issues and the ongoing attempts to resolve the water problems.

But upon reflection of Monday’s public hearing, I feel compelled to defend the supervisors. It was apparent by some of the resident’s comments, that there are those that think the supervisors have made some kind of ‘backroom deal’ with Duckworth with regards to the development of the Richter property. If you believe that has happened, I would suggest that you are incorrect.

It was the Planning Commissioners who wrote the proposed Trout Creek Overlay zoning ordinance and submitted it to the Board of Supervisors for review.  I am not suggesting that the supervisors did not talk to Duckworth – some probably have, as well as Mimi Gleason and Steve Burgo.  In fact, supervisor Mike Heaberg often attends Planning Commission meetings where Duckworth attended.  But folks, there is a difference between supervisors having individual discussions with a developer versus the suggestion that some kind of backroom deal has been made.  Chair Michelle Kichline’s response to some of the resident’s accusations was measured but absolute; no deal has been made between the Board of Supervisors and Duckworth.  And I believe her.

However, maybe Phil Donohue, the middle district supervisor could, have lessened some of the confusion of Monday night, with a better resident outreach program. At-large supervisors (Michelle Kichline, Kristen Mayock, EJ Richter, and Mike Heaberg) have a township wide responsibility versus the district supervisors (John DiBuonaventuro, Paul Olson and Phil Donohue) who are elected and represent residents in a specific area of the township.  Not that the district supervisors should not be involved in township wide issues; but they should have specific focus on the western, middle or eastern districts, which they represent.  Perhaps some of the circus-like atmosphere of Monday night could have been avoided (or at least lessened) with an ongoing dialogue between residents and the middle district supervisor Phil Donohue.  I look forward to better communication in the future.

Before any decisions or votes can be taken, there is obviously going to be much more public discussion about the Trout Creek Overlay zoning ordinance and the Richter tract and its development.  As suggested, there will be a community meeting on Thursday, March 8, 7 pm in the Tredyffrin Township Building to discuss stormwater and flooding problems along Trout Creek. Stephen Burgo, Township Engineer, will present results of a 2010 study of the watershed and recommendations for improvements.

Tredyffrin Township Needs an Economic ‘Call for Action’ From its Elected Officials

Nearly 6 months ago on February 2, 2011, I wrote a post called, Another Store Closing in Tredyffrin . . . A Suggestion for a Business Task Force’.  The post detailed another store closing its doors; at the time, it was Tuesday Morning.  This post was written immediately following the supervisor interviews for the appointment of an interim supervisor (to fill vacated Warren Kampf’s seat).  One of the reasons I wrote the post was that I was struck by the fact that in the interview process, all the supervisor candidates listed economic development as one of the most important issues facing the township. Here is an excerpt from the February 3, 2011 post on Community Matters:

In light of the many empty storefronts in the township, the supervisors listed attracting new businesses at the top of the challenge list. I agree that encouraging new business growth is essential but equally important, is how can we support the businesses that we have?

I wonder if a township business task force would help . . . a volunteer group of local retired executives, small business owners, and corporate representatives. The group would meet monthly with a mission to spearhead ways to improve existing relationships and provide assistance and a resource for township businesses. This important support group for the business community could provide regular updates and suggestions to the Board of Supervisors. Just an idea . . .

Subsequent to this post, I had further discussions with several of the township supervisors on the creation of a task force to help our small businesses and to encourage new corporate business development in the township.  At the April 4, 2011 Board of Supervisors meeting, supervisor Phil Donahue made a motion for an ‘Economic Development Committee’, which would include himself and supervisors Michelle Kichline and Mike Heaberg.  The motion was seconded by supervisor Paul Olson and passed unanimously.  Here are the relevant township minutes from the supervisors meeting which detailed the committee:

Mr. Donahue made a motion to form an Economic Development Committee, to pull together information, gather facts, and begin a dialog putting our best foot forward and creating the right environment for Tredyffrin. Mr. Olson seconded the motion.

Ms. Kichline said she, Mr. Donahue and Mr. Heaberg would recruit members of the business community and surrounding regions to serve on the committee, which would advise the entire Board on the role and scope for where we want to go with large and small businesses. Mr. Heaberg said we are looking for creative strategic thinkers in the community.

Resident Carlotta Johnston-Pugh said she didn’t see a lot of diversity in the community and thought this would bring more companies to the Township as well as residents. Mr. Donahue said the first step will be having an opportunity to discuss ideas like that with residents.  At the end of discussion, motion passed.

It has been 4 months since the supervisors  passed the motion to create the Economic Development Committee.  I attend all the supervisors meetings and in checking meeting minutes, I could find no  further reference to this committee. Understanding that there may be ‘behind the scenes’ movement on the Economic Development Committee my supervisors, I would still ask what is the status of the committee?  Besides supervisors Donohue, Kichline and Heaberg, who are the members of the committee?  How often do they meet and what is their mission?

In my early discussions with supervisors, I had suggested that the committee needed to include a balance of small business owners, corporate representatives and interested members of the community.  As a small business owner and former member of the Paoli Business & Professional Association Board of Directors, like many other residents, I have a stake in the development and encouragement of our business community.  As is the case in many parts of this country, we have seen little improvement in our economic climate and our community needs a grassroots effort to help our businesses succeed and to encourage new growth and development. 

I was prompted to write today’s post by an article in the Philadelphia Business Journal, www.bizjournals.com . Newtown Borough in Bucks County is looking at various ways to help their struggling businesses and will hold a roundtable discussion to brainstorm ideas.  Council members in Newtown are optimistic that the roundtable will open up communication between the residents, business owners and elected officials.  I was optimistic that Tredyffrin’s Economic Development Committee would provide a similar type of forum for our community that would include residents, corporate representatives and small business owners in the discussion.

It is so disheartening to hear of more and more businesses failing – leaving empty office buildings and storefronts in the wake.  In addition to an update on the Economic Development Committee, I would also like a status report on the Paoli Transportation Center.  A few weeks ago, I wrote of the train station and was given the impression from our State Rep Warren Kampf, Willistown, and Tredyffrin township supervisors that the transportation center remains a priority.  If the project is a priority, I believe that the community should expect an update.

Economic development in Tredyffrin Township needs to be more than political campaign promises . . . the decline of our business community is a serious issue and we need help to stabilize and save our community.  Should we hold our elected officials accountable?  Or, . . . do you think that the severity of the economic situation is beyond the scope of township supervisors?  Can local officials make a difference with our local economic climate?  My answer to the last question — is that they need to try. 

With last week’s unexpected closing of Jake’s Frozen Custard in Paoli after only 10 months, I was again reminded of the fragileness of our economic environment.  Our elected officials – local and state – need to help save our existing small businesses and encourage development and growth of new business in the township.  These are not passing problems that somehow time will magically erase.  Previously, I volunteered to serve on the Economic Development Committee and I am confident I could get many more to help – we just need direction.

The next Board of Supervisors meeting is on Monday, August 15.  I am sending a copy of this post to our township supervisors and State Representative requesting that the community receive an update on the Paoli Transportation Center project and on the township’s Economic Development Committee. I am asking for an economic ‘call for action’ from our elected officials.

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