Tredyffrin Township Planning COmmission

Assisted living facility on Russell Road in Paoli and Conestoga expansion & parking lot on Irish Road – Projects receive green lights from Tredyffrin Planning Commission

With a standing-room only audience, the Planning Commission meeting this past Thursday must have set a record for its length! The meeting started at 7 PM on Thursday and 7-1/2 hours later ended at 2:30 AM on Friday! The focus of the night were two projects – the proposed assisted living facility on Russell Road in Paoli and the Conestoga high school expansion plan and its new parking lot on Irish Road.

Although I did not stay until the meeting ended, we do now know that the planning commissioners approved (4-0 vote) the final land development application of Alterra Property Group LLC/Russell Road Partners, LLC to construct a three-story 116-unit assisted living facility on Russell Road. Although the Russell Road area is a residential community, the Alterra property is located in C-1 Commercial District; there are two existing office buildings which will be demolished for the project.

If you recall, back in 2012 the township changed its C-1 zoning to include senior living facilities as a by-right use. At the time, it was argued (unsuccessfully) that the zoning change to C-1 was ‘spot-zoning’ to accommodate a specific project – Daylesford Crossing.

During the last seven years, the township has grown from one assisted living facility (Highgate at Paoli Pointe) to four – Daylesford Crossing, Echo Lake (a massive 3-story, 250-apartment property with 160 independent living apartments and 90 assisted living and memory care apartments) and Brightview Senior Living (gigantic 450+ ft. long, five-story, 55-ft high building next to Whole Foods in Devon with 196 beds) and apparently coming soon a fifth facility on Russell Road in Paoli.

To fully understand the assisted living facility planned for Russell Road, it is important for folks to drive by and look at Brightview Senior Living in Devon – the scope and size of the building is overwhelming. Although the township C-1 zoning only permits a 160 ft. length, the planning commissioners granted a waiver for 450+ ft. for Brightview.  Arguably wedging Brightview on E. Conestoga Road into the commercial area next to Whole Foods and Nudy’s and backed up to the train tracks did not directly impact many residential neighbors.  But still – the planning commissioners granted a waiver on Brightview for over 3 times the allowed length!

Now we fast forward to the assisted living facility planned for Russell Road (which unlike the commercial location of Brightview) is a quiet residential neighborhood. And yes, we know that an assisted living facility is a by-right use in C-1 zoning but we also know that it only permits a length of 160 feet.  Just like the Brightview Senior Living building, the planning commissioners approved a waiver for a 460+ ft. 3-story assisted living building for Russell Road. You have to wonder if the planning commissioners had not approved a waiver that is three times the allowable length for the building – would the applicant have reconsidered the viability of the project.

There’s also another twist to the Russell Road assisted living project and I’m not certain of its significance. The public learned at the meeting that two of the planning commissioners had to recuse themselves on the project due to conflict of interest. Long serving planning commissioner Tory Snyder is married to George Broseman, the attorney for the applicant. When Broseman is associated with any of Tredyffrin Township projects in front of the Planning Commission, the public is accustomed to Tory recusing herself from the discussion. This recusal was expected and not a surprise.

However, an audience member had asked why Peter Jonak (a relative newcomer to the Planning Commission) recused himself for the assisted living facility plan? Turns out that planning commissioner Jonak, owner of Spire Builders, very recently moved his construction office from Lancaster Ave. in Berwyn to Russell Road in Paoli, directly adjacent to the proposed assisted living facility on property owned by Alterra Property Group (the assisted living facility owner).  Like I said, perhaps no significance but do find it curious.

The Russell Road neighbors have banded together and hired an attorney, an engineer and created a social media presence under “T/E development out of control” with accompanying lawn signs. Beyond the planning commissioners’ approval for the oversized building, neighbors are concerned about existing storm water issues and fire and emergency equipment on their narrow winding road associated with the planned assisted living facility.

As far as the Alterra Property Group is concerned, the project now has final land development approval – read green light. But where does this leave the Russell Road neighbors? Between the waiver for the 460+ ft. building length and the fire and emergency equipment concerns associated with its design, perhaps they will appeal the decision.  An appeal would need to be filed within thirty days with Chester County Court of Common Pleas.

The other major Planning Commission application of the night was the preliminary/final land development for the high school expansion and the new parking lot on Irish Road.  After much discussion and public comment until 2:30 AM, the planning commissioners voted 4-2 to approve the project and all associated waivers.

Although the parking lot on Irish Road was reduced to 94 spaces in the final plan, there remains much concern from the neighbors. The Irish Road parking lot and bus pull-off area is located in the R-1 residential zoning district but the use is permitted by special exception. Beyond the removal of many trees to construct the parking lot, the neighbors are concerned about existing storm water issues and pedestrian safety.

So much for slowing down the project to review possible alternatives with the 13 acre eminent domain purchase of the adjacent Doyle & McDonnel property. Apparently, it was stated that not only would the nursery property purchase not impact the expansion plans – it was stated that the high school expansion plans and parking lot would have remained unchanged, even if the District had owned the property when the project was designed!

I remain baffled as to how the additional adjacent 13 acres would not impact the expansion plans and possible alternatives for the parking lot.  But according to its most recent newsletter, “The District is proceeding with its plans to bid the project in December with the construction phase starting in the Spring of 2020.”

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Preserving Tredyffrin: Inside the Covered Wagon Inn Today

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There has been questions about the exact date of the Covered Wagon Inn. According to Tredyffrin Township’s 2003 Historic Resource Survey, the construction date is attributed to circa 1780. A team of professionals from Preservation Design Partnership in Philadelphia conducted the municipal survey documentation project, which surveyed and documented over 350 historic resources in Tredyffrin Township.

Interestingly in 2004, the Historic Resource Survey was given the Government Award by Preservation Pennsylvania. The project was described as “providing a usable preservation planning tool for a suburban township currently under intense development and redevelopment (in the form of “tear-downs”) pressure.”  The award description went on to say that, “Tredyffrin Township Historic Resources Survey represents a model for the use of technology to document and plan for the management, protection and preservation of historic buildings, sites and districts valued by a municipality.”

The township’s 2003 Historic Resource Survey was funded with taxpayer dollars and was intended to aid the municipal officials and staff in the protection of Tredyffrin Township’s resources. The preservation of historic buildings like the Covered Wagon Inn is a one-way street.  There is no chance to reuse or save the building, once it’s gone.  Preservation and restoration is the ultimate form of recycling.  What is historic, and worth saving, varies with the beholder.

Do I have absolute certainty that the construction date of the Covered Wagon Inn is 1780?  The simple answer is no but does that make it less important to save?

Brass plaques on the floor the Covered Wagon Inn marking Delaware County and Chester County.

Covered Wagon Inn fireplace

The Covered Wagon Inn is on the corner of Old Eagle School Road and Lancaster Ave. This intersection marks the boundaries between Radnor Township in Delaware County and Tredyffrin Township in Chester County.  There has been a story swirling that the Covered Wagon Inn is actually in both Radnor and Tredyffrin townships. The plaques face each other, one labeled Chester County and the other Delaware County. Story is that patrons dining in the old inn would want to sit at the table placed over the plaques and enjoy joking that they were sitting in different counties!

Tredyffrin Township’s township manager Bill Martin and zoning director Matt Baumann confirmed that the Covered Covered Wagon Inn interiorWagon Inn is located completely in Tredyffrin Township. The historic building probably was originally in the two counties but at some point, the property boundaries were realigned.  But it still makes for a great story and the brass plaques which remain on the floor are priceless to local history.

When I visited with the staff of Thos. Moser, the current tenants of the Covered Wagon Inn, I took a number of interior photos of the building’s wonderful interior, including the brass plaques on the floor and the large stone fireplace.

The restored interior space is the perfect backdrop for the fine American handmade furniture of Thos Moser.

If these walls could only talk …

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Carla Zambelli in her Chester County Ramblings blog writes in her recent post about the effort to ‘Save the Covered Wagon Inn’. Click here to read: For the Love of Community and History

Please sign the Change.org petition to Save the Covered Wagon Inn by clicking: http://tinyurl.com/SaveCoveredWagonInn In 36 hours, over 1,700 signatures.  People from as far as Hawaii, Washington State, Florida, etc. are sharing memories of the Covered Wagon Inn. Please sign and share your memories.

There is a Facebook page, ‘Save the Covered Wagon Inn’ which has over 1,300 ‘likes’.  Please visit the page and support the effort to save the historic building.  http://www.facebook.com/SaveCoveredWagonInn

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Chesterbrook Shopping Center & Wayne Glen projects are on Tredyffrin’s Planning Commission meeting for Monday

The new owner of the Chesterbrook Village Shopping Center has not yet shared its plans for the half-vacant retail complex. (Caroline O'Halloran/Main Line Media News)There is an update with forward movement on the Chesterbrook Shopping Center redevelopment project! The developers of the shopping center, 500 Chesterbrook Boulevard LP, will appear in front of the Planning Commission on Monday, April 27, 7 PM to review the preliminary/final subdivision application for the site.  The developers plan is to redevelop the existing 13-acre site, which contains approximately 122,000 sq. ft. of commercial space, into a mixed used development.  Their plan contains approximately 31,000 sq. ft. of commercial space (utilizing a portion of the existing building) and 124 residential townhouses in the newly created Town Center District.

It has been nearly 4 years since Genuardi’s in the Chesterbrook Shopping Center closed.  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 redevelopment of the Chesterbrook Shopping Center is very overdue – this project is going to be a win-win for the neighboring residents, the corporate employees working in Chesterbrook and other township residents, who like me, drive through the area regularly.

Also in front of the Planning Commissioners on Monday is the Wayne Glen development project.  Unlike the widespread community support that developers have enjoyed with the Chesterbrook redevelopment plans, the Arcadia Land Company project ‘Wayne Glen’ at the northwest corner of the intersection of Swedesford and Old Eagle Roads, has seen its share of spirited debate.

Wayne Glen

The proposed Wayne Glen project is a mixed-use development with carriage homes and townhouses plus an office-building component.  The issue for the residents close to the Richter Tract is how the developer will manage the stormwater situation as much of this area, including Glenhardie, is prone to regular flooding.  The Wayne Glen project is located in the Trout Creek Overlay District and the Arcadia developers believe that their plan will utilize design techniques that will alleviate the erosion along the stream banks and flooding issues and improve the poor water quality.

On Monday, the Planning Commissioners will consider Arcadia’s conditional use application to construct 104 residential units in the R-1 Residential District and approximately 240,000 sq. ft. of non-residential building area in the Professional District.

The target audience for the residential construction in both the Wayne Glen and Chesterbrook projects is the age 55 and over market – the emptynesters and those people interested in downsizing from their large single family homes.  However, with a combined increase of approximately 230 new residences between the two projects, the possibility does exist for additional school age children for the T/E School District. Typically, there is representation at these Planning Commission meetings by the School Board.  However, the Planning Commission meeting on Monday conflicts with the regularly monthly meeting of the School Board.

As an aside, at the last Public Information Meeting this past week, Barb Jackson, an Easttown resident and T/E parent, asked about Dr. Waters contract and whether he would be retiring when his contract ended in June 2015.  After Waters confirmed that he would retire, a follow-up question was asked regarding the search committee and process to find a replacement.  Although not listed on the School Board meeting agenda for Monday, Board President Kevin Buraks told those of us at the meeting that the Board would give the specific details on the superintendent search at the upcoming school board meeting on Monday.

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