stormwater

Stormwater Management, Why Does it Matter? Open Land Conservancy Annual Meeting, Tuesday, April 7, 8 PM

When it rains, it pours!

When it falls from the sky, we call it rain. But once those April showers hit the ground, the rain becomes something more ominous-sounding … “stormwater” … and its effects have become more complicated and expensive. We’ve seen fast-moving, drenching thunderstorms virtually paralyze parts of Tredyffrin Township, sometimes the water so damaging it causes roads to close.

The Annual Meeting of the Open Land Conservancy is tackling the complicated issue of stormwater and the public is encouraged to attend on Tuesday, April 7, at 8 PM at Great Valley Presbyterian Church, 2025 Swedesford Road, Malvern, PA 19355. Guest speaker Michele Adams, a water resource engineer and founder of Meliora Design, a civil engineering firm specializing in sustainable site design and water resources planning in Phoenixville, will discuss stormwater management, the issues in Tredyffrin and offer suggestions for homeowners.  Ms. Adams will talk about the stormwater problem in general, issues specific to Tredyffrin, and suggestions for homeowners.  Following her presentation, Ms. Adams will answer questions from the audience.

The OLC is Tredyffrin Township’s largest non-government landowner, with six preserves in the township. In total, the OLC has nearly 500 acres of open space, either owned or in conservancy.  Each year OLC provides a public meeting focusing on an environmental issue of local interest.  This year’s stormwater topic is particularly relevant, especially given some of the new development projects in Tredyffrin – the large assisted living building on Lancaster Avenue in Daylesford, Chesterbrook Shopping Center redevelopment and Wayne Glen (Richter Tract) carriage and townhouse community in Glenhardie area.

Stormwater management has been a top priority in the proposed Wayne Glen plan as the first township land development project to utilize the Trout Creek Overlay District ordinance. The proposed plan requires extensive engineering to control the storm water in the Trout Creek tributary that runs through the property.  How the Wayne Glen developers will manage the stormwater in Wayne Glen continues to be one of the major sticking points for the residents living in this development area.

The issues surrounding stormwater affects all of us; the run-off rainwater on parking lots, driveways, roads, homes and office buildings, all of which used to be absorbed by the ground but now is covered with pavement. The gutters, retention basis and storm sewers carry the water into area streams already swollen with rain. Beyond the obvious erosion to the creek banks, severe flooding and property damage, the water also sweeps pavement pollutants like motor oil, anti-freeze, brake fluid and other garbage into the streams that often feed major sources of drinking water.

Like individual homeowners, the managed preserves of OLC are  subject to erosion from stormwater run-off from neighboring properties and roads.  Stormwater management is a real problem facing this community. The growing problems with stormwater runoff are in direct proportion to the amount of impervious surfaces that are being built and the amount of soil-compacting construction activities that are taking place.

Plan to attend Ms. Adams presentation and learn how efficient stormwater management techniques can reduce the damaging impacts of stormwater runoff on water quality, on flooding, and on sensitive ecosystems impacted by all of that water

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Stormwater Issues – No Easy Solutions

Last night marked the Township’s third public hearing for the Trout Creek Watershed Overlay District ordinance in as many months. The Trout Creek Watershed Overlay District ordinance would permit additional redevelopment usages on large properties in the Trout Creek Watershed in exchange for much-needed stormwater facilities help.  In addition to the public hearings on this topic, there have been multiple other meetings both public and in small groups with township staff, supervisors, planning commissioners, Richter property developer and residents.

Township manager Mimi Gleason gave an overview slide presentation detailing the proposed ordinance, its history and the process.  The idea for the Trout Creek Watershed Overlay District Ordinance originated with the 2010 ‘Trout Creek Watershed Study and Stormwater Best Management Practice Analysis’.  The Richter property was one of the 10 locations named in the study for stormwater best management practice in the township and suggested a 6-8 acre stormwater basin for that location.

Although the Trout Creek Watershed Overlay District Ordinance would apply to all applicable properties within the Trout Creek Watershed area, it is the 36 acre parcel located at Swedesford and Old Eagle School Roads – the Richter property – that is the focus and concern for the Glenhardie neighbors.  It should be noted that the Richter tract is the largest undeveloped property in the Trout Creek Watershed but as the economy improves, the proposed zoning ordinance amendment change could be used elsewhere in the district as an incentive for developers.

Prior to public comment, the supervisor chair Michelle Kichline made a motion to remove retail with accessory gas and multi-family/apartments from the proposed Trout Creek Watershed Overlay District Ordinance. Although the Planning Commissioners included these usages in the proposed ordinance, the motion passed unanimously. As explained by Kichline, there would be no vote on the ordinance at last night’s meeting.  Due to the level of prior public input on the subject, Kichline asked that all resident remarks focus specifically on the ordinance itself.

As we know, Joe Duckworth of Arcadia Land Company is the possible developer for the Richter tract. Duckworth continues to reach out to the neighbors and offered his email and cell phone number ‘on the record’ during the public hearing.  As part of his proposed carriage houses/townhouse development project for this site, would be the inclusion of a 6-8 acre stormwater basin.

Several residents asked about the possibility for the township to acquire property through eminent domain. As explained by township solicitor Vince Donohue, although legal this process would be long and expensive, both in acquisition and in legal fees. In other words, what I heard – not a very practical solution.

To further study the Trout Creek Watershed Overlay District situation, Kichline announced a ‘working group’ with supervisor Phil Donohue and resident Tom Coleman.  The group would include members of the planning commission and local Glenhardie residents.  Their mission would be to meet for 6-8 weeks and offer recommendations to the Board of Supervisors. Generally, I am a proponent of citizen task forces and hope that this working group will be inclusive and representative of the views of all residents affected; the mission and direction of this group should be defined clearly.

The stormwater challenges in Tredyffrin Township have been 300 years in the making and certainly are not going to be solved quickly.  Whether you live in the Glenhardie area or the Great Valley area of the township, stormwater issues exist. Historically, stormwater systems were designed to collect and quickly move runoff as a way to prevent localized flooding or erosion.  Over time, it has become evident that the traditional curb-and-gutter approach was not sufficient.

I am of the opinion that the stormwater challenge facing Tredyffrin is going to require a shift in the fundamental philosophy of our local government and its residents.  One of the hallmarks of recent township supervisor elections has been the promise of no tax increases or no new taxes.  But given the dramatic infrastructure problems facing this community, how much longer can that viewpoint work?  What we are now seeing is that the monetary cost of managing stormwater is high but the potential cost of inaction is even higher.

Beyond understanding that stormwater is a problem, needs to be the acceptance that the management of stormwater is a very costly responsibility.  Perhaps now is the time for our elected officials to seriously consider a stormwater utility.  This option could provide a vehicle for consolidating or coordinating responsibilities and provide an effective alternative to financing the cost of stormwater management.

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Removal of Wawa and Apartment Building from Richter Development Plans

Still in the early stages of discussion, we do not know where the proposed Trout Creek Overlay District zoning ordinance change and the development of the Richter property will ultimately end.  My last post contained details from the long public hearing and as part the follow-up, the potential developer Joe Duckworth met with a small group of nine local Glenhardie community members.  To assure transparency and to allow maximum community input, other interested residents were invited to attend the meeting held at the township building.

Many of the resident comments at the public hearing focused specifically on the ongoing township stormwater issues. The Trout Creek Watershed Overlay District ordinance would permit additional redevelopment usages on large properties in the Trout Creek Watershed in exchange for much-needed stormwater facilities help.   As follow-up to the public hearing, there is a community meeting Thursday, March 8, 7 PM to discuss stormwater and flooding problems along Trout Creek – Township Engineer Steve Burgo will present the township’s 2010 study of the watershed and recommendations for improvement. The public hearing for the proposed zoning ordinance amendment continues at the next Board of Supervisors Meeting, Monday, March 19 at 7:30 PM.

Beyond stormwater issues, there was much discussion about the possibility of a Wawa or a large apartment complex that the proposed zoning ordinance would permit.  Some of the residents asked specifically that ‘retail with accessory gas’ and ‘apartment house’ usage be removed from the zoning ordinance amendment language of the Trout Creek Watershed Overlay District.

For those opposing a Wawa or apartment building on the Richter property, there is good news to report!  

The proposed developer for the project, Joe Duckworth, contacted me for an update. As I said in my last post on Community Matters, “I have found Duckworth to be very community-minded and responsive to all questions and concerns related to the development of the Richter tract” and this continues to be the case.  Duckworth explained, that based on the community input at the public hearing, he immediately reached out to the Board of Supervisors to suggest that the gas station and apartment building usage be removed from the proposed zoning ordinance amendment for the Trout Creek Watershed Overlay District. Those usages will be removed in the revised amendment and Duckworth presented this new information to the residents at the follow-up community meeting.  For the record, Duckworth says that a Wawa was not a consideration by Arcadia Land Company for the Richter property.

With Wawa and apartment building out of the proposed zoning ordinance change, the majority of the 30-35 Glenhardie residents who attended the community meeting, are OK with the Richter development plans for carriage houses and townhouses.  But what’s the saying about not being able to please all the people?  Duckworth explained there remain a couple of residents who are opposed to development project regardless of the removal of the Wawa and apartment building.

We discussed Duckworth’s plans for the Richter site; carriage houses and townhomes sound like they could provide a great option for Tredyffrin residents, particularly for those wishing to downsize for their large single-family homes but remain in the community.  The carriage house concept with the master bedroom on the first floor has become a popular feature sought among the retiring baby boom generation.  I have heard of several local residents who are already planning a move when the carriage homes are built.

According to Duckworth, the total number of carriage houses and townhomes in the proposed development will be around 120, although the breakout between the design types is not known at this time. Pricing for the carriage houses will probably be mid-$500K and townhouses in the $400K range.  Duckworth confirmed that the entrance to the project would be Old Eagle School Road not Walker Road.  With entrance to the proposed development off Old Eagle School, I voiced concern for the Valley Friends Meeting cemetery, which could be close to the new driveway.  Duckworth reassured me that he was very aware of the situation and appropriate buffering and landscaping would be included in the plan to protect the cemetery.

The Richter property was one of 10 locations named in the 2010 Trout Creek Watershed Study and Stormwater Management Practice Analysis for stormwater best management practice in the township.  The study suggested a 6-8 acre stormwater basin and Duckworth confirmed that his Richter plan sets aside 8 acres for the basin.  According to Duckworth, the cost for the township to construct this large stormwater basis would be approximately $1 million plus the additional cost of land acquisition.  Were the township to purchase the property and construct the stormwater basin, the costs would be several million dollars.  As part of the Richter land development project, Arcadia Land Company rather than the taxpayers absorb these stormwater costs.

Without a Wawa or an apartment building in the Trout Creek Watershed Overlay District zoning ordinance amendment, the continued public hearing on March 19 will probably be less contentious.  Although the Richter land development project is only in the early stages of the planning process,  it looks like a community-minded developer may be the key to its success.

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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.

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