Pattye Benson

Community Matters

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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  1. I’m new to this discussion. Is there a model for this idea? The idea of getting developers to do work in a district as opposed to plot by plot decisions? I lived in another state and I know that land was zoned period. If you wanted a variance, you did something for that zoning change. Develoeprs routinely put in improvements. I was involved in mall development and we had to built a culvert to reroute a very tiny stream — it was the only way we could get approvals to build out mall. So can someone explain: the purpose behind giving blanket advance development approvals to a “district” is to horse trade blindly for stormwater management?
    I agree with Ms. Benson — this township has to stop looking eternally for the cheapest way to get something done. I actually have less issues horsetrading for the Richter site than for an overlay district. Can someone explain it to me? WHAT is the underlying principle, and is this common in Pennsylvania? (where the Blue Route took 30 years to build?)

  2. In discussion with several residents today, there is a shared interest in seeing the township officials address infrastructure issues in the community. The stormwater situation is the current focus but there are other areas that need addressing — Wilson Farm Park could use some TLC for instance. None of us ‘want’ to pay more taxes but we also don’t want to live in a place that is not receiving needed attention and maintenance.
    I was copied on an email from John Petersen to the BOS and Mimi Gleason which was written based on last night’s meeting. He offered that the email could be public and I share the following excerpt:

    ” . . . And how did we get here? Political brinkmanship. I lost count of the times when it was said “We don’t want to raise taxes.” There is were the adults in the room have to make themselves known. This is a complex problem and one that needs to be met with a solution that is going to cost money. For years, this government has opted not to spend the requisite money on infrastructure. Effectively, the BOS has been guilty of off balance sheet financing here. The problem is, the debt service has not been maintained. Now the bill is due – or is nearly due. There needs to be a solution and it needs to happen soon. You are worried about spending money??? You’ve already spent the money in the form of destroyed properties, lives torn apart, stress, etc. You have what amounts to an unfunded liability. It’s high time this government own up to its sworn responsibilities. If you don’t see those responsibilities, then it pretty much proves the point as to a lack of institutional competency. With all of this publicity, home values are decreasing. Seriously, what do you think prospective home buyers in that area will think?”

  3. And to think six years ago the Township was planning to spend $1.4 million on planned improvements to a little pocket park called Westover ….It seems Tredyffrin has cut spending to the bone since then and there are no plans to raise taxes or take on debt to undertake much needed stormwater improvements.

    Monday night was the first time I’d ever heard the idea of a redesign of Devon Park Drive, narrowing the width of the roadway and placing drainage basins on either side. The township owns this road, but the estimated construction cost would be almost $2 million. Ms Gleason pointed out that 8 of these kinds of projects would need to be done to equal the benefit of the proposed basin on the Richter tract.

    At no cost to the Tredyffrin taxpayer, a large retention basin on the Richter property could potentially handle all of the stormwater from upstream in a regular storm and up to 40% of the stormwater from a major storm. The cost to Tredyffrin? Zero dollars from taxpayers with higher density development on that land than is permitted under current zoning.

    This seems like a attractive deal for area residents and the township. I hope it can be worked out so that there will be a net benefit to everyone.

    But in my view, it is unrealistic to wait decades for developers to save our neighborhoods from long-standing stormwater problems – the most significant facing our township. Residents who view their community’s infrastructure as integral to their property values and quality of life understand they have to pay for it.

    Whether by a stormwater fee or a tax increase, the township will not be able to address the multi-million dollar cost of needed improvements without dedicated capital funds and a plan.

    It’s time to stop repeating the same mantras – “we must tighten our belts, live within our means, and lower our expectations as to what local government can provide.”

    It’s time to invest in our community.

    1. Yes, Kate, people do understand some of this. And others understand they chose not to purchase homes in obvious areas where stormwater can be a problem. I guess those who looked ahead when making this major investment should pay now because they planned ahead?

      The township has been dealing with stormwater issues for years and has worked hard on it. it is not, however, a problem created overnight and it won’t be solved overnight.

      I am willing to chip in, as are most residents, but it has to be fair.

      1. FTW, well stated. As for Kate, who says it is time to invest in our community, she probably means invest more. And where do the investment funds come from? One time fee, increased taxes? These are difficult times for most, some even in our township. With the promise of higher taxes on the federal level (hopefully the election solves that) and the cost of college tuitions out of sight, food inflation present and accounted for,( need an energy policy for starters) and people looking for work or people who have stopped looking for work I just wonder how far the rubber band will go before it snaps.. Maybe it has.
        I am not diminishing the plight of homeowners with big time stormwater isssues. As a community we should find a way. But I am concerned that increasing taxes is permanent, while a stormwater fix may require a one time tax or fee that will go away when the problem is remedied. just thinking out loud

      2. Most realators will discuss the impact of stromwater on property values when looking for a house in this area. I know ours did when we bought our house many years ago even though I grew up here as a child and was familar with the area. You can be sure that properties in flood prone areas are priced accordingly. Just like properties near highways.

        The Glenhardie Golf Course has always been flood prone. They had flooding problems back when Allstate had the only office building on Swedesford Rd.and there wasn’t all this impervious pavement around. The area is a floodplane.

        Any discussion on spending township money to remedy the problem should include purchasing the properties that are most affected by stromwater flooding. That would propbably be less expensive than retrofitting the entire overlay district.

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