Pattye Benson

Community Matters

What do these things have in common . . . St. Davids Golf Club, Planning Commission, BAWG, Sidewalk Subcommittee, land development authority, STAP, Board of Supervisors?

What do these things have in common . . . St. Davids Golf Club, Planning Commission, BAWG, Sidewalk Subcommittee, land development authority, STAP, Board of Supervisors?

In looking at Tredyffrin’s Planning Commission agenda for tonight’s meeting, I discovered an interesting item listed under ‘new’ business — “Draft Amendment to the Subdivision & Land Development Ordinance”.

To understand the Planning Commission agenda item, you will need to recall a Board of Supervisors motion from this past December. At that meeting, Supervisor Bob Lamina questioned whether the Planning Commission should continue to have land development authority in the township . . . he thought that authority over land development should revert to the supervisors (as was the case many years ago). However, to make an ordinance change requires a public hearing, which is scheduled for February 28.

Here’s the significance of the Planning Commission agenda item . . . the Planning Commissioners are expected to draft the amendment that will relieve them of their land development authority and give that authority to the Board of Supervisors.

There are more connections. How many of you remember the community discontent and hostility over St. Davids Golf Club and the recommendation contained in the BAWG report suggesting the township accept $50K in lieu of building sidewalks. Even though there was a signed contract between the township and St. Davids requiring the sidewalks, the Board of Supervisors pushed through a motion to return the $25K escrow money to the country club; removing the sidewalk requirement. After much media publicity, many letters to the editor, accusations of Home Rule Charter violations, claims of deal-making and resident outrage, the Board of Supervisors reversed their earlier decision.

The reversal of the Board of Supervisors decision to return the escrow money had an interesting caveat attached. St. Davids escrow money and the decision to require the construction of sidewalks was put ‘on hold’ pending the outcome of the Sidewalks Subcommittee recommendations. At the same time the supervisors reversed their decision, they created a Sidewalks Subcommittee whose goal was to adopt a formal sidewalk policy to recommend to the Board of Supervisors. Members appointed to the joint subcommittee were supervisors (Phil Donahue, EJ Richter, Michele Kichline), Planning Commissioners (Tory Snyder, Bob Whalen, Trip Lukens) and representatives from Sidewalks, Trails and Paths ‘STAP’ (Sean Moir, Beth Brake, Jim Donegan).

If you are interested in the St. Davids Golf Club-BAWG report background, go to the top right of Community Matters and enter the words, St. Davids in search. Or for a particularly passionate post, read St. Davids Golf Club Decision Reversed but, . . . Was There Full Disclosure, Transparency, Deal-Making and the corresponding 68 comments. (click here for that specific post).

The Sidewalks Subcommittee began meeting last spring. I attended most of the meetings and was impressed by their efforts. The committee engaged community members through public meetings and accepted input from interested citizens. They created maps and conducted a township-wide survey to get a consensus on sidewalks, bike trails and paths needs throughout the township. Their analysis was thorough and thoughtful.

At their last meeting (which I attended), the Sidewalk Subcommittee summarized their findings in preparation for a presentation at the upcoming Monday, January 24 Board of Supervisors meeting. Chair of the Sidewalk Subcommittee and a Planning Commissioner, Tory Synder will make the presentation and deliver the committee’s recommendation to the Board of Supervisors.

Are the supervisors going to take the recommendations of the Sidewalk Subcommittee or will their efforts be ignored? Will the St. Davids sidewalk requirement currently ‘on hold’ affect the supervisor’s decision to accept the Sidewalk Subcommittee recommendations? Will the signed contract between the country club and the township remain intact?

Supervisor Michele Kichline is an attorney and served on the Sidewalks Subcommittee . . . Michele knows contract law; how will she guide her fellow supervisors?

Here’s the million-dollar question – Does the proposed ordinance change to remove land development authority from the Planning Commission to the Board of Supervisors have any relationship with the St. Davids sidewalk issue? Remember, the Planning Commissioners required the sidewalks as part of country club’s land development project.

Do some of the supervisors think that if they take back land development authority, they can override the Planning Commissioners decision to require St. Davids to build the sidewalk?

Why change the land development ordinance now? Just coincidental timing or is the ultimate goal to release the country club from their contractual agreement with the township.

The St. Davids Golf Club sidewalk business was a very hostile time in our local government’s history. When elected officials go behind a closed-door and make decisions, the perception can be as bad as the fact. Let’s keep the door open! Here is one resident who does not want to see another similar watershed moment . . . the citizens of Tredyffrin deserve better.


Important Dates:

  • Planning Commission Meeting, Thursday, January 20, 7 PM
  • Board of Supervisors Meeting, Monday, January 24, 7:30 PM
  • Land Development Ordinance, Public Hearing, Monday, February 28, 7:30 PM
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  1. Pattye, I saw this last week and intution told me there had to be something more to it. Thanks for taking the time to look into it further.

    And BTW–

    ***Why does the TWP ALWAYS HAVE TO BE SO VAGUE when placing an item on an agenda? ***

    I have questions….

    What was the reasoning behind giving the Planning Commission authority over land development in the first place?

    What has changed since then? Besides St. David’s…

    Will the Planning Commission remain as an advisory board?

    In other municipalities, who has the final say on land development decisions?

    Has the amendment to the Land Development Ordinance aleady been drafted? If yes, can we get a copy of it or do we have to wait for the public hearing?

    1. Paul Olson running again? He’s 80 I think. Can someone step up and suggest that there should be a legal age to retire from public boards?

  2. I can not believe this mess just keeps going on. The Supervisor’s seem to be gluttons for punishment.

    There is a decent rational for the Supervisors taking back land development. Tredyffrin is one of very few (if not the only) municipalities in the state which vests final land development approval with the Planning Commission. Maybe it does belong with the Supervisors.

    Also there is no doubt that the Planning Commission required St. David’s to build a sidewalk that was not called for under the Township’s code. I would have thought they were following the desires of the Supervisors who indentified Upper Gulph Rd as one of the desired areas for sidewalks. (The planning commission’s refusal to grant the relief after the supervisors made it clear that they opposed the sidewalk requirement may be perceived by some as hard headed.)

    In general the brouhaha over the St. David’s sidewalk is just crazy. It is a maximum of a couple hundred feet of concrete or asphalt. Who cares? As Paul Olson likes to say “it is a sidewalk to nowhere.” But so what? They agreed to build it; there is a binding land development contract and we can’t be allowing all developers to renege on deals. If we do, every time a project is almost complete the developer is going to be asking for waivers of requirements to reduce costs.

    Overall, the supervisors and planning commission members do a great job. Changing the Township’s land development process because of St. David would be petty. I don’t think that given the timing of this proposal that there can be any other interpretation.

    P.S. – Supervisors, In these times of financial trouble lets not waste money to teach a lesson to one of the townships boards. If you don’t like the job they do don’t reappoint them.

    1. Also – everyone should know that there is a real ‘cost’ for the township to have a public hearing — court reporter, advertising, etc. Not sure of the exact cost but certainly several thousand dollars. You are right that in most municipalities, land development authority falls to the supervisors. I think that generally-speaking that is a good idea, as long as it is done for the right reason. But I don’t think St. Davids sidewalk should be the only reason. A retired supervisor told me that there were a couple of reasons that land development authority was moved to the Planning Commissioners years ago — (1) there is alot of time involved (assuming it is done correctly) and if the economy continues to improve (and we hope it does!) there will be new projects and more plans to review, and (2) it was thought that the Planning Commissioners had a better skill-set for handling the subdivision and land development projects.

      1. Pattye —

        I think all the reasons you give for the Planning Commission are sound…but I am not enamored of them having the final say.

        The ONLY recourse citizens then have against an unelected board is costly litigation. I think that final authority/decision making should rest with the BOS (with strong PC advisory) so they can at least feel public pressure. The Planning Commission can do as they wish without worry of reprisal — both a good and bad thing.

        Also, I can’t find another municipality where a Planning Commission has final say…it seems highly unusual.

        1. FTW — I would probably agree that if a very high percent of municipalities give final land development authority to the Board of Supervisors, than Tredyffrin Twp probably should do the same. The only problem is that this sense of urgency by some of the supervisors to change the ordinance NOW has to do with the politics of St. Davids. Timing, all about timing.

          Done for the right reason, I could support the ordinance change – but the ordinance change right now is not for the right reason, it’s all about politics and re-election time.

          The Sidewalk Subcommittee worked the last year on their recommendations to BOS which will be delivered on Monday night. The BOS already know that their recommendation includes St. Davids sidewalk — not because of the Planning Commission but because it’s part of the Green Route Network. It is all very unfortunate but I’m predicting that the nastiness of last year over St. Davids is just about ready to rear its ugly head. Very sad.

  3. The Supervisors have the capacity to change Planning Commission members. They merely have to not re-appoint them. They could also request resignations or and I would think remove members from the board. The current makeup of the Planning Commission is fairly impressive and has a number of real estate professionals. I don’t think taking final land development authority should be done merely because most municipalities don’t have it is a good reason. If members of the Planning Commission did something inappropriate remove them. If the code is flawed fix it. The supervisors are supposed to send someone to planning commission meeting. They should provide feedback to the Planning Commission prior to finalizing the land development contract. The remedy is the same for developers no matter who has final land development authority.

    1. I attended the Planning Commission meeting last night. Unfortunately, the Planning Commissioners claim that rarely do they see the assigned liason supervisor in attendance. Many members of the Planning Commission are troubled by what they anticipate is going to happen with land development authority. Repeatedly the commissioners claimed that they do not think they have done anything wrong — suggesting that there has only been one dissatisfied applicant (yes, that would be St. Davids GC). They also reminded us that 3 times St. Davids came to Planning Commission and 3 times the commissioners unanimously agreed on the sidewalk component. I feel very bad for the Planning Commissioners and also for the people on the Sidewalk Subcommittee . . . I fear that the time and effort of these volunteers is going to be stepped on just to benefit St. Davids.

  4. Presumably the Sidewalk Subcomittee, which includes BOS will not be surprising anyone. The BOS on the subcomittee no doubt have done some work with their fellow board members to (yes — this is intentional….) “PAVE THE WAY.”

  5. Do we want to live in a community that does things because other townships do, or in one that is distinctive because it does things BETTER?

    Our Planning Commission is composed of volunteers with experience and expertise. They have a track record of collaborative success with the development community. Many people volunteer because they have something to contribute and they get satisfaction from making a difference. Can we expect the same level of expertise if all that time commitment counts for naught, subject to over-ride by a capricious BOS?

    Big decisions for the BOS upcoming: whether to accept the report of the Sidewalks Committee, whether to strip responsibility from the Planning Commission. Seems to me that these will be important considerations for the replacement appointee. A litmus test?

    Can the Planning Commission take their time to study the ordinance change so there is no vote until there is an ELECTED representative?

    And BTW: the BOS can have TWO representatives show up to monthly (well, they were monthly last year, quarterly this year) meetings of the Stormwater Committee, but no-one to the Planning Commission?

  6. John – your opinion that EJ is “a joke and an embarrassment” and that “she does not think for her self” is grossly unfair and inaccurate. EJ is a passionate property rates supporter. She disagrees with the notion that governments should be compelling property owners to make public improvements. While I disagree with her, that hardly qualifies her as a joke or an embarrassment. The need to talk about people the way you do is an embarrassment. You are a smart guy, but the name calling weakens your arguments and just makes you look bad.

    If the Planning Commissioners said the vote was unanimous that is not true. I attended the last St. David’s meeting and Gio D’amato and Edward Sweeney voted to relieve St. David’s of their obligation to build the sidewalk.

    1. I’m guessing you meant to type that EJ is a property rights supporter (John knew that too)…but you cannot be part of a municipality with any kind of land planning and NOT require landowners to trade obligations for approvals.
      Sometime in the past few weeks people have written about the school district and selling schools and land. How do you think the district got that land? They got it as part of a community development plan — that someone who wanted to subdivide acreage and build homes had to designate land for schools. If you had lived anyplace else in this country (besides this parochial, proprietary fiefdom), you would know that most public improvements are paid for by private land owners — you want to build there — put in sidewalks, pave the roads etc. Funny how say EJ protects property rights — that’s not what I have heard her saying. She has parrotted Paul Olsen’s views….which of course are about doing as little as possible to keep Tredyffrin up to speed for 1950.

  7. I don’t have a problem with “cash for sidewalks”, if the correct amount is settled on. There is little need for them at that location. Have the club pay the money it’s supposed to, but install sidewalks where they will actually get use (by the TE library, for instance) or down on Eagle Road.

  8. So Catherine — you too don’t believe the Sidewalk Subcommittee or the Planning Commission have any basis for recommending the sidewalk? Either they are stubbornly and defiantly recommending the sidewalks, or they have worked through the issues and determined that the sidewalks are appropriate. In the latter case, why would you think that because some are okay with “cash for sidewalks” that we should sell out. If the former is true (that there is only ego at stake for the PC and SS), then we are all lost. And by the way – how much “cash” do you think they should pay?

  9. My reason for believing there’s no basis for the sidewalk at that location is my eyes.

    I don’t see a string of bedraggled, petrified walkers taking their lives into their hands on that street. I just don’t. There isn’t the foot traffic there to demand it.

    Put that money in a ‘pavement pool’; use it elsewhere in the twp.

  10. John, what exactly is there to walk .. to? Are you saying:
    “If you build a sidewalk, they will come”?

    Use that money in TE where a sidewalk is necessary: along North Wayne Avenue from Church of our Savior where worshippers take their lives into their hands….along Gulph Rd by the library … or from the Strafford train station down curvy Strafford Road.
    There are many people walking along all three of the dangerous stretches of road I’ve just referred to.

    That’s my point.

    1. Catherine,

      It is my understanding that there could legal issues with taking the $$ from the St. Davids sidewalk project (assuming that the country club were to pay the twp in lieu of constructing sidewalks) and using the money on a different sidewalk project. John, can you put your legal hat on and please confirm for us.

    2. Catherine
      Obviously there is some serious “grey” associated with where to build sidewalks — I personally don’t like them — but there is a process that has been used to develop the sidewalk plan that has involved countless volunteer and professional hours. My point is that weighing in now, with little information except your eyes, is disrespectful of the process.

      I actually understand the BOS wanting to step in — because they feel like you and I think they don’t want to bother with the reasons — they just want to call it off. They have a bigger stick than the PC — but they gave the PC the stick and now they don’t like what they did with it.

      But here’s the deal. There was a process. St. Davids footprint on their site is far larger than the previous footprint. They didn’t want to do two floors. So the PC had some STAP mission they were on, and they traded the footprint and presumably the impervious coverage associated with that variance, and St. Davids took the deal.

      Only when they got their 4th vote on the BOS did they try to turn back time. The problem for all of us is that they are arguing about authority and not about the sidewalk. The sidewalk is just the topic used to debate the authority.

      The Sidewalk report that was due in tonight is meant to be a thoughtful review of where we should have sidewalks. If that review produces a recommendation to keep the St. Davids OR to abandon it, I think that’s the place where our decision should lie. If they believe it’s a component of a future walkable community, and make that recommendation, then the BOS should step back.

      Then again, all this presumes grown up behavior, which based on the feedback here and the lack of mutual respect in the entire arena — it remains to be seen.
      Sorry — this is a little long. Don’t know how to shorten it and still make the points…..

      1. The Sidewalks Subcommittee presentation will include the sidewalk at St. Davids Golf Club in their recommendation. This section of sidewalk is part of the Green Routes Network system in Tredyffrin.

      2. “give it a rest” – You indicate that the footprint for St. David’s is “far larger than the previous footprint.” I don’t believe that is true. How much larger is it? Your statement that “they traded the footprint and presumably the impervious coverage associated with that variance” for sidewalks is simply not true. Just look at the place, they have to have one of the lowest impervious coverage ratios of any property in the township.

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