Pattye Benson

Community Matters

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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  1. Some of the ideas contained in the Trout Creek Watershed overlay ordinance are good. The community could benefit with some real stormwater help through the use of incentive zoning that this proposed ordinance change would allow. But please take the apartment building out of the ordinance as a permitted use.

    I like the idea of an intensity bonus for office buildings that incorporate ground-level retail shops and restaurants. More and more areas are taking this approach and that could be a win-win for this location.

  2. It should be noted that E.J. Richter was the BoS liaison to the PC last year and attended several meetings when the Overlay District was discussed. The PC spent a lot of work on the storm water management problems and made a field trip to look at the entire district.

    While many super Wawas are located in commercial areas; some are adjacent to residential communities – one is on route 100 in Lionville. There are others in neighboring counties where they together with CVSes are right next to residential complexes.

    Ever since Wawa introduced this concept, I’ve bought their gas and plan my trips in order to do so. Same when I’m driving on vacation (always Wawa, Sheetz, Pilot). If our residents don’t do this, they must have $$$ to burn. I would think Glenhardiie/Valley Forge Estates residents (many with SUVs) would be glad to buy cheaper gas than at stations up on the pike. Oops, maybe they have $$$ to burn too. Repairmen and corporate/casino workers would use the quickest route (main roads to OES & Swedesord) to pick up lunch and/or buy gas. What it might due is redistribute the lunch traffic along the Swedesford Road corridor.

    Personally I see this as a win/win for both the business community and the residents. Just my take.

    1. I don’t recall Richter giving any BOS updates about the proposed Overlay District. As the PC liaison, she should have clued us in!

      My guess is that you don’t live in the Glenhardie area if you are suggesting that it’s OK for a Wawa at this location. For those neighbors, I’m betting the $$ that you suggest they could save in gas, would not equal what will have happen to their property values. It’s easy to suggest things are a good idea if its not your backyard. My apologies if you do live on Walker Rd. or one of the other roads close by.

      And you probably think an apartment building with 250 units is an equally good idea, good for the neighbors too.

      1. Yes I do and have lived in this area since I was a child – VFE & G’hardie didn’t exist then.

        1. Sorry, I meant I do live here.

          I was addressing the Wawa only which would not be next to or adacent to any of the homes in the immediate area.

          And there are alternatives to a 250 unit apartment building; it depends on what the developer decides to present to the PC. Does he want to go the rental or ownership route.

        2. VFE opened in 1958. Paoli Elementary and Strafford School were active and thriving and full.

          $15,000 per child to educate someone in our community. Upper Merion’s commercial tax base (malls and casinos) lure apartment dwellers….and offset the high density residential area. IF the township does not accept the pressures these decisions put on the school district, then the district can and should start to acquire land and bank it to protect taxpaeyrs against further tax increases. 250 apartments — let’s pretend it’s 100 kids. So $1,500,000 per year costs to educate those kids — IF we had the space. Since we do not, let’s throw in a new building. The district absorbed Chesterbrook (though at least those developers had to carve out land for future development), has absorbed The Greens at Waynesborough, and countless farm subdivisions in Easttown. I remind us — when the school district expanded Conestoga, Tredyffrin Township assessed the district almost half a million dollars in permit fees. It’s not like the school district can build in a more competitive township….

  3. Does anyone see the irony of the past week or so postings here?

    We have set up a Economic Development Committee with a CM-reported “mission to develop strategies for economic stimulus in the township”, yet the mere mention of the simplest growth engine – more people! – sends everyone running to social media and their nearest political power broker. Any changes nearby, be they to the overgrown lot or the abandoned business, are a threat to our swimming pool, housing values and way of life. We complain about floods but will not make any trade-offs to reduce them. Our antiquated taxation basis keeps away the corporations we’d like and will not fund the services required for the only housing in demand in the new post-home ownership world. The School District comes out with an anti-growth manifesto, and a resident laments the prospect of “casino workers” (heaven forbid!) moving in.

    That being said, the proposed Overlay District represents a big zoning change. Surely the rants we saw on Monday could have been predicted. Yes, the purpose of the rehearing was indeed to “hear”, but the commentary and tone shows that the communications ball was dropped with a resounding crash.

    The bottom line, though, is a township that continues to fossilize. Our governing political machine needs to come up with some answers and leadership.

  4. You say,

    “Our governing political machine needs to come up with some answers and leadership”

    — any suggestions????

    Although I dont agree with T/E approach with the township, I think there is a valid point. With a strapped school district facing a difficult future, there should be concern as to what a significant population growth could do — its one thing to build single-family homes but large apartment complexes, an entirely different matter. Your thoughts?

    1. Some things that could be considered:

      1. Appoint two Supervisors to review the TCS communication process and make recommendations for improvement in the future. Timeline – 30 days. Pick those less directly involved: say JD and Olson (!).

      2. Convene a task force with the school district to come up with a pro-growth, pro-investment tax policy that shifts a little of the burden from capital to income and recaptures the $3 million that we send to other municipalities. See if there’s a way to make that $3 million tangible and to offset a year or two of property tax increases.

      3. Supervisors that are also TTRC members resign those committee positions immediately and institute a policy that requires this separation.

      4. Hold a public meeting in which the main TCS zoning changes and the rationales for associated options (eg 40 units per acre vs 20 units vs 10 units?) are made clear in ways the public can understand.

      5. Review all inputs received, pick the options that best accomplish the objectives and vote within 60 days.

        1. Just trying to draw together some recent CM threads, on the principle that there’s a dynamic system at work and nothing occurs in isolation.

          I think it would provide the community with some reassurance that the BOS was working towards a truly representative growth agenda if a third of the members were not part of a cabal that campaigned against a pro-business tax policy before the facts of the matter could be aired.

      1. The only cabal in the township is the Planning Commission. The members of the BOS are elected by the residents of the township. Instead of drawing together threads, you appear to be driving your personal agenda.

  5. It appears residents have made little effort to follow what is going on in their neighborhood and now they are irate. The Township cannot afford to go door to door to make people aware of what is going on. Check out the Township website, read the email blasts, watch the Supervisors meetings, read the agenda and minuets for or attend the Planning Commission meetings. This did not happen in a vacuum.

    I think Patti can vouch for the fact that the Planning Commission is very receptive to neighbors’ concerns. If the residents had come out and objected we may not be at this point. However, we need some leadership to address the overwhelming storm water in the township. Without massive tax increases and condemning property there is very little that can happen absent incentive’s for developers and redevelopment.

    What has to be obvious is that Joe Duckworth knows more about residential property values than probably anyone on this forum. If the apartments and Wawa are worse for residential values than office improvements, he will have a lot to lose as he will own over a hundred nearby lots.

    1. Some good points. Not only are the agendas available in advance for BOS meetings but also for the Planning Commission meetings. I have attended a number of PC meetings where I may only have the company of 1 or 2 other residents. At last week’s community meeting on the proposed assisted living project on Lancaster Ave. I said the same thing — if you go to the township website, and click on ‘Boards and Authorities’ and there’s a drop down list. Go to Board of Supervisors or Planning Commission and you can find agendas and all the minutes from past meetings.

      Here is contact information for the individual township supervisors or if you want to send an email to all,

      Michelle H. Kichline, Chair (At Large)
      John P. DiBuonaventuro, Vice Chair (3rd District, West)
      Paul Olson (1st District, East)
      Philip Donahue 2nd District
      Michael C. Heaberg (At Large)
      Kristen K. Mayock (At Large)
      Evelyn Richter (At Large)
      Here is the list of Planning Commissioners:
      Robert Whalen, Chair
      Reaves ‘Trip’ Lukens, Vice Chair
      David Biddison
      Libby Brinton
      J. Thomas Cooper
      Robert J. O’Leary
      William Rountree
      Victoria Snyder
      Edward C. Sweeney
      Supervisor Kristen K. Mayock – Board of Supervisors Liaison
      Email for Planning Commissioners:
      Contact information:
      Mimi Gleason, Township Manager
      Steve Burgo, Township Engineer

  6. This exact tract was considered by TESD more than 15 years ago — as a “gateway” to the community with sports fields etc. It didn’t go far because despite almost no value for property taxes on the books, it was too expensive a property to acquire.
    250 apartments — I’m not even sure how firm that idea is — but will assume that people remember The Main Line Drive In and the building behind if of Devon Strafford Apartments…which resulted in such an inflow of children that the district had to build Beaumont. Valley Forge Elementary has grown by almost 100% in the past 10 years…so any interest in adding residential property must be done with an understanding that the cost of educating a child is not mitigated by the cost of the housing the child lives in. Good luck.

  7. Why does everyone have to assume that an apartment complex means a huge influx of children? If you are putting in 250 units, make enough of them studio or one bedroom and you might attract some of the twenty-somethings who work in the office complexes. Make them larger and quite luxurious, and some of the aging people in Tredyffrin who want to downsize but stay in Tredyffrin might rent them. Tax revenue and housing for people who want to live here but do not have children – wouldn’t that be a win-win?

    You can’t have no tax increases, but solutions to storm water without some kind of economic development.

    1. Even if this development were to conform with your vision how the appartments would be, the overlay district is large and there is no assurance another developer would be so inclinded. Plenty of upscale appartments are available in Upper Merion and more are planned on the site of the old Valley Forge Golf Club. Let the high density housing stay there.

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