Riley Riper Hollin & Colagreco

Tredyffrin Township: What Price Economic Growth?

What price economic growth …

  • What is the price tag for economic development in Tredyffrin Township?
  • Is it OK to green light a land development project even when it doesn’t meet current zoning regulations?
  • Is it right for a developer and his attorney to create a zoning ordinance amendment to Tredyffrin Zoning Code to suit their needs for a particular project?
  • As a community, do we want zoning amendment changes in Tredyffrin Township without restrictions, requirements or conditional uses?
  • If you are a developer considering a project in Tredyffrin but cannot find suitable zoning, that may not be an obstacle to your plans. All you need to do is write a new ordinance, call it economic development and then watch as the plan moves forward.

This post is an update on the old Duffy catering site on Lancaster Ave. and the proposed assisted living facility.  The vacant Duffy property contains approximately 2 acres, with a 1 acre parcel zoned C-1 and a 1 acre parcel zoned R-1.  Current zoning does not permit an assisted living facility in C-1 or R-1 in Tredyffrin Township.

With an idea to build a 93-bed/79-unit multi-story assisted living facility on the C-1 parcel, the developer Ed Morris through his attorney Denise Yarnoff of Riley Riper Hollin & Colagreco, submitted a zoning ordinance amendment change to the township to permit assisted living as a C-1 usage.

Tredyffrin Zoning Code currently addresses assisted living facilities in IO (Institutional Overlay) zoning and includes four pages of restrictions and regulations, including residential density, bed density, buffers, setbacks, etc. in addition to a 10-acre minimum acreage requirement.  Yarnoff skillfully, and in the best interests of her client, reduced the four pages of regulations to a one sentence zoning ordinance amendment change. She offers no restrictions, regulations or conditional uses … just a C-1 amendment that would allow assisted living in C-1 zoning.  I give Yarnoff credit – as the attorney for Ed Morris, she is certainly maximizing the land development needs of her client.  Assuming Yarnoff gets this C-1 zoning amendment change, then it should be full-steam ahead for Morris to build his assisted living facility — 93 beds/79 units on 1 acre.

Members of the public do not dare call this proposed action ‘spot zoning’.   Supervisors, Planning Commissioners and township staff cringe when residents refer to this proposed change as spot zoning – telling us that it can’t be spot zoning if the change affects all C-1 zoning in the township.  On the flip-side, some of these same people tell us there are no plans for assisted living facilities in any other township C-1 locations.  As I see it, they cannot have it both ways.

A quick real estate Google search indicates a Tornetta Realty Corp. listing of 6.1 acres of ‘Prime Development’ C-1 land available for $3.5 million at 1057 Howellville Road, Berwyn. Now here’s a thought — if Yarnoff’s proposed zoning amendment change can permit 93 beds/79 units on 1 acre in Daylesford, then by my calculations, there would be room for 560 beds on Tornetta’s 6.1 acres in Berwyn.    (Click here to see Tornetta’s Howellville Rd. listing)

I don’t know why certain supervisors and planning commissioners would have us believe that assisted living facilities are not planned for any other C-1 locations.  Seems to me that the C-1 land on Howellville Road for sale would present an excellent opportunity for Morris, Yarnoff et al to build a sister location to their Daylesford assisted living facility!   And remember folks, no official land development plan has been submitted to the township for this project; this is about changing zoning in anticipation of a plan! Yarnoff’s proposed amendment change for C-1 zoning is being considered without the submission of a land development plan. What’s the saying about the “cart before the horse”?

But aside from any concerns about putting 93 beds/79 units on a 1-acre site, I take an exception to the township’s handling of this land development plan and making changes to zoning to suit a particular developer. Where is the voice of the residents?   When elected or appointed officials characterize citizen activism as politics, they’re attempting to marginalize the citizens’ concerns.  The most-affected neighbors to this proposed project, the Daylesford Neighborhood Association (DNA) with Trisha Larkin as president, have banded together hoping to have their collective voice heard.  Their green and white ‘No C-1 Zoning Change’ signs are populating township lawns and the support is building beyond the immediate neighborhood.  Much like George Lucas’ storm troopers in Star Wars, the DNA and their supporters are organizing and preparing for battle but … will it be enough to turn the tides?

Although no land development plan has been officially filed with the township, some seemingly already have the facility built.  Let’s disregard the required process in favor of what some officials believe should be the desired outcome.  The proposed C-1 zoning ordinance change is on the agenda for Thursday, July 19 Planning Commission meeting — concerned township citizens plan to attend.  Right now, I am not certain that their voices will make a difference. According to tonight’s Board of Supervisors agenda, the supervisors will “Schedule Public Hearing to be held on August 20, 2012, to consider amending the Zoning Ordinance, Article XVII §208-65, C-1 Commercial District, Use Regulations to permit a new use: “residential care facility for older persons providing permanent residential accommodations and/or assisted living facilities/services (and supplemental services)”.

Additionally, I have learned that on July 5 the township sent a letter, formally requesting that the Chester County Planning Commission (CCPC) review and provide a formal recommendation on Ed Morris’ proposal to change C-1 zoning. The C-1 zoning amendment change as sent to CCPC is the version written by Morris and Yarnoff, with no restrictions, requirements or conditional use. The deadline for CCPC comment is by August 5 … no accident that the deadline is prior to the proposed August 20 public hearing date.

From my vantage point, the scheduling of the public hearing on the proposed C-1 zoning change and the review request by Chester County Planning Commission in advance of the upcoming Planning Commission meeting is preemptive of the process and citizen input.  To move this process along before hearing the concerns of the community is to marginalize the voices of the citizens. Balancing public concerns requires public input and is crucial in determining the pros and cons of development and possible zoning ordinance changes.  Residents deserve respect and an opportunity to receive answers from those elected to represent us.

Why the rush to push this zoning ordinance change through? Why no bed density restrictions or regulations?  Why no conditional use?

And let’s not forget that Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors hired a consulting team in April to conduct an 18-month, $100,000 analysis of the township’s commercial zoning ordinances.  This proposal to change the township’s C-1 zoning ordinance is preemptive of the consultant’s analysis which begs a question —  why is this township spending $100K for a consultant to analyze the township zoning and make recommendations?

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