Saul Ewing

Battle to Stop Catalyst and BAN the Digital Billboard Continues — Community Has One More Opportunity to Voice Objection, Thursday, July 25, 6 PM

Eleven months in and the digital billboard saga continues …

At the May 30 special meeting of the Zoning Hearing Board, the audience learned after three hours of testimony that the legal proceeding would be continued to July 9.

Unfortunately, as soon as the July 9 date was announced, I knew that I would be on a plane that night – and with nonrefundable tickets there was nothing I could do. For those that have followed along with the BAN the Digital Billboard campaign for the past eleven months, you will appreciate how difficult it was for me not to be in attendance on Tuesday night.

However, the good news is that many people that I know were able to attend and I have received many text messages, emails, phone calls, etc post-meeting making it easier to write this post. And some more good news … the residents will have one more opportunity to make their voices heard at the final Zoning Hearing Board meeting on this matter, Thursday, July 25, 6 PM.  The regular ZHB starts at 7 PM, so that gives us an hour to continue to drive home the point why our community does NOT want a digital billboard!

One of those in attendance at the meeting on Tuesday was my good friend Ray Clark and he kindly provided few written comments from the 3-1/2 hour meeting. (In addition, Ray texted continuous updates throughout the ZHB meeting – so grateful to him!). Here are Ray’s thoughts from the meeting – to others who attended, I welcome your comments:

A few observations from a non-lawyer on Tuesday’s ZHB proceedings hearing the appeal of the denial of a permit for a digital billboard.  The applicant worked hard to focus the discussion on the legal intricacies of their challenge to the validity of the township’s zoning ordinance, while the audience was concerned about the safety and visual impact of placing a distracting, flashing device at a busy and iconic intersection.

A couple of process points.  Dan McLaughlin did a good job of managing the contentious meeting to be fair to all perspectives.  He allowed more residents to apply for standing, since many were prevented from attending round one due to the tornado warning. However, the applicant objected objectionably (!) and arbitrarily to most – at one point saying that he did not believe – with no basis! – one resident who gave a precise distance from his house to the intersection!  I imagine that the ZHB will rule on the standing of all the residents from both meetings at the wrap up meeting on July 25th (6pm).

The witnesses were two: continued testimony from the applicant and Matt Baumann for the township.  I don’t pretend to have followed this closely enough to give an opinion on the legal issues, but there was a lot of discussion about the meaning and applicability of “lighting”, “changeable copy”, “flashing”, “alteration”, “conditional use”, “vinyl wraps”, “backing blocks”, and so on.  Throughout the applicant tried to force the discussion to a word-by-word parsing of the Township denial letter – with some success since Matt acknowledged that the letter had an internal inconsistency.  I don’t recall much discussion of why the ordinance is illegal, maybe that was last time.

The audience seemed to come more prepared than the township Baumann/Verwey team.  Excellent points were made about the lack of applicant studies of intersection safety issues (they relied entirely on PennDoT regulations), the inaccuracy and limitations of the safety studies they did present, the lack of information given to the township to assess the features of the sign, the availability of studies indicating a definite safety issue, and of course the fundamental fact that the sign is DESIGNED to distract attention.

It seems a great pity that commercial interests have the potential to weasel loopholes in township ordinances written at a different time to attempt to foist upon us something that seems to be universally despised and a very real safety risk.

Far from dividing, the digital billboard issue has united the community in its opposition.  I am proud of our residents — they have put lawn signs up, shared information, done their own digital billboard research, attended and spoken out at meetings.  Folks, we have one more opportunity to drive home our message of opposition on Thursday, July 25, 6 PM!  

Always the optimist, I’m going to believe that our Zoning Hearing Board is going to come down on the side of the community on the digital billboard issue.

Your Voice Counts and the Community Matters!

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Say NO to Proposed Digital Billboard in Paoli on Tuesday, July 9, 7 PM, Zoning Hearing Board Meeting: Your Voice Counts & Our Community Matters!

The “To be continued … “  digital billboard saga returns to Township Township Zoning Hearing Board meeting on Tuesday, July 9 at 7 PM at the municipal building, 1100 Duportail Road, Berwyn. (Click here for agenda).

This process has been nearly a year in the making, and the legal proceeding was last at the Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) meeting on May 30. With tornado warnings and loss of power for many homeowners in the township, it was a challenge just to attend the meeting!

On May 30, we only heard from the Catalyst attorney John Snyder from Saul Ewing and his two witnesses. On Tuesday, July 9, the ZHB meeting continues with attorney Tony Verwey from Gawthrop Greenwood presents the case opposing the digital billboard on behalf of the township.

To remind you about the ZHB meeting on May 30, a number of residents (including myself) asked to be a party in the case — with Snyder objecting to all but one resident. In my opinion, the entire Tredyffrin Township community (and beyond) should have standing in the case, as we all will be impacted by a digital billboard at the busy intersection in Paoli.

To the credit of the ZHB chair Dan McLaughlin (and much to the chagrin of Snyder) the public was told that “standing” would be determined at the July 9 meeting.  And the good news is that ALL residents who wish to comment at the upcoming ZHB meeting may do so, with or without legal standing. It will be curious to see where the legal issue resolves itself for those that previously sought standing and also whether residents who were unable to attend the ZHB meeting in May will be granted standing.

Much of the widespread opposition to the proposed digital sign is focused on safety yet we learned on May 30 that no safety expert would be called by the Catalyst attorney because he didn’t think “it relevant”.   One of the two expert witnesses called by Catalyst was Jesse White, an employee of Watchfire Signs, a Danville, Illinois digital billboard company who sells billboards to Catalyst. In his testimony, White admitted his company would probably have the contract for the proposed digital billboard.  He certainly is not an unbiased witness and the township attorney Tony Verwey needs to object.

Other crazy remarks came from the second Catalyst witness, employee Tim Earle who claimed digital billboards are “almost like a TV” and compared the proposed digital billboard, with its constantly changing face, to the 7-Eleven gas price sign across the street and to the Conestoga High School sign. The so-called expert testimony of Earle should be thoroughly cross-examined by the township attorney. Here’s hoping that Tony Verwey is fully prepared for this legal proceeding against Catalyst – the residents are counting on him to bring his ‘A’ game!

On Tuesday, please show up at the township building for the Zoning Hearing Board Meeting and speak out against the proposed digital billboard – Our Voice Counts and our Community Matters!

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TE School Board’s idea of ‘compromise’ at Valley Forge Middle School … Green Hills homeowners to get 6-foot high chain link fences in their backyards instead of previously announced 4-foot fences

Green Hills residents met with TE School District representatives regarding the proposed Chesterbrook fencing project last night and learned that compromise isn’t in the school board’s vocabulary.

Representing the TE School District at the meeting were school board members Pete Motel, Kevin Buraks, Liz Mercogliano and Kris Graham in addition to Art McDonnell, Dr. Gusick, attorney David Falcone of Saul Ewing, Tom Daley of Daley & Jalboot Architects and the District attorney Ken Roos. Motel, Buraks and Mercogliano are all on the Facilities Committee and School Board President Kris Graham attended in the absence of Virginia Lastner, the fourth member of the Facilities Committee.

In addition to the homeowners, attorney Brian Nagle of MacElree & Harvey represented Chesterbrook Civic Association and Michael Gill of Buckley, Brion, McGuire & Morris represented Green Hills Homeowners Association at the meeting.

With the proposed chain link fencing planned extraordinarily close to the abutting properties, residents appealed to the school board for a reasonable discussion of the project. However, rather than finding common ground and understanding, the affected property owners learned that their backyard fencing would not be 4 feet high as previously stated at the District’s Facilities Meeting. No, in a surprise announcement, the Green Hills residents learned the District has changed the height of the chain link fencing in their backyards to six feet!

It seems to me that these homeowners are being targeted – the Valley Forge Middle School fence project calls for the two sections of fencing along Chesterbrook Boulevard and Valley Forge Road to have four foot high fencing whereas the Green Hills residents are facing 6 foot chain link fences in their backyards. I don’t’ think any of the other school fencing projects have 6-ft. high fences, do they? You have to wonder what the District uses as their criteria for 4 ft, 5 ft. or 6 ft. fencing.

I thought that you needed a variance for 6 foot fencing in Tredyffrin Twp and we know that that the District previously withdrew their variance request. However, the District sidesteps the ZHB application process by putting a 4-ft fence along Valley Forge Road, which is technically the front of the school. According to Tredyffrin Township Zoning Ordinance 208-119, the back and rear yards at Valley Forge Middle School (which includes the Green Hills-TESD property line) only requires a permit for the 6-ft. fence not a variance. (Note – as of late today, the township had not received a fence permit request from TESD).

Green Hills resident and abutting property owner Pete Stanton attended the meeting and provides his summary below.

Summary of meeting 3/25/15 with representatives of the TE School Board and concerned citizens of Green Hills and Chesterbrook regarding proposed VFMS Fencing project.

– No agreement was reached over fencing. The status is that the School Board is still determined to place the fence at or near their property line. They plan to notify residents in the near future exactly where the line of the fencing will go.

– In a surprise turnaround, the Facilities Committee Chair Peter Motel announced the fence facing Green Hills homes would be 6 feet high. Previous Facilities Committee discussions that I attended had indicated the fence near our properties to be a four foot fence. No explanation for this change was offered. The Contractor is making an application for a fencing permit to Tredyffrin Township.

– The fencing architect from Daley and Jalboot reinforced the idea that the primary goal of the fencing on their property line was border identification. The School Board had evidently not considered any other option to fencing to “mark” their borders, such as signage.

– Attorneys for Green Hills, Chesterbrook Civic Assn and the School Board’s attorney as well as their outside Counsel were all present. There was some back and forth questioning, but nothing substantive at this time.

– The invited guests presented a wide variety of commentary … the excess expense of the fence in time of fiscal crunch for the school District, the security flaws inherent in their planned fence placement and deployment, and the general disruption to all residents in cutting off the continuous access to the Rural Conservation (RC) zoned areas and paths to the fields, St Isaac’s etc.

– An alternative fencing line was proposed by a citizen (non-Green Hills resident) as a “compromise” which places the fencing well out from the homes but still cuts off access to the paths. This proposed alternative is certainly an improvement to the District’s plan, but may wind up costing the District more (due to needed new path construction) and in my opinion does not go far enough in allowing unfettered access to the 20.7 acre RC zoned open area. I have color coded the 2 alternative proposals for consideration. Please see the attached map showing my desired fencing line, (the green line plan), the Citizen’s “compromise” fencing route (red line plan) along with the pathway needed for that plan (new path is blue line). Click here for map of VF Middle School Fencing Plan.

– Green Hills and local Chesterbrook residents and the 5 “abutter” families seem clear that they want unfettered access to the 20.7 acre open area behind their homes as they have for decades. By placing the fence as a continuation of the four foot fence already in place on the upper fields closest to the school, the School District will enhance student safety. By being able to visually monitor the entire fenced area directly from the School plant, continue to allow resident path access that they have utilized forever, and save the District thousands of dollars in fencing costs… All these arguments taken together are compelling for the District to alter their current plans and strongly consider the one that I am offering here. With the “green line plan”, everyone wins.

It would seem that supporting the District’s proposed chain link fencing project is not a particularly smart political move for anyone seeking reelection to the school board. Board President Kris Graham (the only incumbent seeking reelection) and her unfavorable position on the Valley Forge Middle School fencing plan could pose a political hurdle for her in November.

It is my understanding that some members of the school board have agreed to a walkabout at the Green Hills fencing location with the five affected homeowners. I still contend that if all the board members would take the time to walk the abutting neighbor’s property, they would agree to a compromise discussion.

Here’s hoping that there is still time for reasonable people to make reasonable decisions on the Valley Forge Middle School fencing project.

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